By J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Taking a page from legendary basketball coach Lefty Driesell’s playbook, the St. Cloud Bulldogs officially opened fall football practices at 12:01 a.m. with a “Midnight Madness” Monday morning practice at Tom Gannarelli Field.
Being an ardent basketball fan, first-year St. Cloud head coach Michael Short decided to copy the concept and hold his own version of Midnight Madness in the early moments of Aug. 1, the first permissible day for FHSAA fall sports practices.
“We did this when I was coaching in North Carolina and I just remembered how much fun the kids had with it,” Short said. “So when I came to St. Cloud for the first time we did it and Coach (Bryan) Smart continued it for a year or two. When I ended up at Colonial we did it for a few years. I just remembered how awesome it was, so when I got the head job again, I decided to bring it back.”
Although not a new idea on the state or nationwide level, St. Cloud believes they are the only school in Florida to open fall camp at midnight this year, something that was not lost on the players. ‘Super cool experience and a once in a lifetime thing for me,” senior safety and wide receiver Joseph Clukey said. “When we found out we were going to do it, the guys were super excited. It’s a beautiful night and it’s almost a surreal feeling that it is almost 1 a.m. and we are out here practicing but the energy is incredible.”
In all the team went through a spirited two hour workout with many planning to spend the night on campus. “We’re going to have a great breakfast about 7 a.m. for them and then go into our meetings and walk though for our second session of our two-a-days,” Short said. “We will send them home for some sleep and start our regular camp on Tuesday.”
More than any other reason, Short said the idea was meant to be a team-bonding experience. “I told them that on Sunday night while 384 high school football teams in Florida would be sleeping, we would be one of 385 schools that would be working,” he said. “As we got closer to the day, you could sense how excited the kids were.”
In additional to the players and coaches, about 40 parents and fans attended the practice that ended around 2 a.m.
The idea of Midnight Madness practices dates back more than a half decade ago, when a strict NCAA rule prohibited coaches from starting pre-season basketball practice prior to the closest Friday to October 15.
In 1971, Driesell – then the basketball coach at the University of Maryland, had the idea of starting the first basketball practice just minutes after the first official date they could be held. His idea including inviting the public out to watch a 1.5 mile team run. The early practice session was attended by 3,000 fans at the track surrounding Byrd Stadium on the University of Maryland campus, thus the tradition of Midnight Madness was born.
In 1982, coach Joe B. Hall and the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team began to officially promote a celebration dubbed "Midnight Madness" as a school event with formal entertainment acts and an invited student audience. This event was held in Memorial Coliseum and held 8,500 people in the then- 12,500 seat gym It’s an idea that Short hopes to become tradition. “It obviously has become a big deal for college basketball. Hopefully it’s something we can build on and make a big deal at St. Cloud.”
The other seven county schools opened practice on Monday morning. Preseason games will be held the weekend of Aug. 19 with the first regular season games coming on Aug. 26.