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Commentary | Youth football players from Bradenton going to nationals

Two Bradenton eighth-graders, Brandon Luckett and Kyle Thoma, are going to the Football University National Championship as part of the Central Florida team. Luckett, who attends Imagine at Lakewood Ranch, had four receptions and two touchdowns (35- and 40-yards) while Thoma, who attends Nolan Middle, kicked three extra points in leading Central Florida to a 27-7 victory over the FBU Charlotte, N.C., over the weekend.

The win pushes Central Florida into the National Championship in San Antonio during the week of Jan. 2-7.

The pairings were released after press time.

Luckett, a wide receiver, was also chosen to participate in the 2012 Eastbay Youth All-American Bowl for the East Unlimited team on Jan. 8.

Olympics start here

Soccer fans rejoice: The recent Nike International Friendlies wasn’t the last time to catch a U.S. Men’s National Team before 2011 concludes. The Under-23 club is in the midst of conducting an eight-day training camp at Lakewood Ranch’s Premier Sports Campus in East Manatee.

The 28-player group is preparing to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. The camp began Dec. 15 and ends this Friday. It’s free and open to the public to watch.

A swell Jingle Bell Run

Running and walking in December for a good cause added up to the right combination for this year’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk to benefit the Arthritis Foundation, held Friday at Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street.

The event attracted 2,800 participants, which meant the 16th annual race was the largest Jingle Bell Run ever in the Sunshine State and largest known 5K in Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to a news release. The event also raised more than $115,000 to help arthritis research, services, benefits and summer camps for children that are affected with arthritis, according to the release.

The overall male winner was Sarasota’s Zack Summerhal. The 16-year-old clocked in at 17:02. Bradenton’s Matthew McFall (second, 17:15) and Riverview’s Eric Ray (third, 17:17) rounded out the top three male finishes.

On the female side, the overall champ was St. Petersburg’s Jessica Seboc. The 27-year-old clocked in at 19:20. Nicole Clark (second, 20:00) and Danielle Logan (third, 21:30) both represented Lakewood Ranch.

Strong effort on the ice

Behind a strong opening two periods, the Manatee County Hockey Club’s Golden Manatees turned back Gaither/Sickles 5-2 at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex on Friday. Luke Bafia found the net twice in the first period, before polishing off a hat trick to cap Manatee’s scoring with 1:52 remaining in the second period.

Zachary McCoy and Dylan Longo completed the scoring for the Golden Manatees (8-4-0). Bafia also added two assists, while Clifton Ramey (four) and Christopher Boehm (two) chipped in multi-assist games as well. The victory gives Manatee 16 points and in the thick of the top spot in the Lightning Conference’s Central Division. The Golden Manatees return to the ice on Friday against Mitchell at the ISF Brandon, before a holiday break until Jan. 6.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com.

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