By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
When fall training camps open next Monday for local high school football teams, massive changes –both on and off the field — will be noticeable.
One of the biggest changes comes with a new alignment of divisions and districts. Under the new format, teams were divided into four classes each of two divisions — either Metro (eight largest counties in Florida) or Suburban Schools (schools from rest of state). The move was approved to negate a perceived advantage that city schools had with “Open Enrollment” because of their ability to attract transfers from nearby schools.
For past several decades, teams were divided based only on school enrollment.
Osceola, Tohopekaliga, and Celebration played in the largest division (8A), Harmony and St. Cloud were in 7A, while Liberty and Gateway were in 5A. Poinciana most recently played as an independent.
Under the new plan, Osceola, Celebration, Tohopekaliga, St. Cloud will form Suburban Class 4A, District 10; while Harmony will play in 4A, District 11 with Palm Bay Heritage, Viera and Melbourne. Liberty and Gateway move to Suburban Class 3A and will play in the six-team District 8 with Auburndale, Davenport, Lake Wales, and Lake Region. Poinciana, looking to play a more competitive schedule, will once again stay independent.
Although the changes will take perennial power Osceola in a different division than Orange and Seminole county powers Apopka, Seminole, West Orange, Dr. Phillips and Edgewater – the Kowboys will still play in the same bracket as state powers from Lakeland, Sarasota, Gainesville and several panhandle schools.
The four district winners in each region will still qualify for the playoffs, along with three at-large teams based on final rankings. Eight state champions will be crowned, with four each coming from the Suburban and the Metro classes.
At the local level, there is also a ton of change in both the athletic directors and head coaching chairs. Five of the eight public schools experienced head coaching changes; while five schools will have new athletic directors.
The changes at head coach started shortly after last season, when Tohopekaliga (2-8) announced that the contract of Jeff Higgins would not be renewed. The Tigers would tab Anthony Paradiso, the veteran successful coach at Lake Nona, to replace them.
Shortly after that announcement, veteran St. Cloud veteran Athletics Director Eric Godfrey announced he was stepping down to take another leadership position at the high school. That opened the door for Bryan Smart to step down as football coach and assume the position vacated by Godfrey. Smart and Godfrey then named assistant football coach Michael Short as the new head coach.
First-year head coach Rich Pringle, who led Celebration to its best season in the school’s 19-year history (7-4) turned in his resignation so he could return to Lake Gibson as its head coach. Pringle was a long- time defensive coordinator at Lake Gibson and was given an opportunity to return “home,” opening the way for the school to select Jeremy Palmer to lead the Storm.
Finally, Brett Munroe stepped down from Liberty High School for health reasons in June. New Athletic Director Lonnie Flores, who transferred from Tohopekaliga hopes to name a replacement this week.
The changes Athletic Directors continued two weeks ago with the sudden resignation of Jim Bird at Osceola, who left to take a new job in North Florida for family reasons. Celebration AD Rick Tribit accepted the job, creating an opening with the Storm.
In all five of the eight head coaches of Osceola public schools will be new this year. Only Gateway’s Marlin Roberts (beginning 14 th season) and Harmony’s Don Simon (begins sixth season) have been in their current positions more than two seasons.
Training camps open on Monday, Aug. 2 with preseason classics scheduled for Aug. 19 and season openers on Aug. 26.