SEMINOLE — At most high schools there is a reputation when it comes to sports. Some high schools are known for football, others basketball. Seminole is known for baseball.
From the strong teams in the 1970s and '80s under coach Bill Brinker to the 2001 state championship coached by Scottie Miller, Seminole has always been a baseball school. In the past few years, the Warhawks have slipped a bit. Last season they were 11-16, losing to East Lake in the district semifinals, which kept them out of the playoffs. In 2015, they were 12-14 and also failed to make regionals.
After one season under Vince Parisi, Seminole has called upon an alumnus to turn around the program. Rob Ciaravino, a 1985 graduate and right-fielder on the baseball team, takes over. He is no stranger to the local baseball scene.
Ciaravino, 50, was the head coach at Countryside from 1994-98. During that span he coached Parisi as well as current Calvary Christian coach Greg Olsen. Prior to that he was an assistant coach at Ridgewood in 1993, and in the late '90s he was an assistant with Brinker at Seminole. Since 2007, Ciaravino has run the Hitting Academy in Clearwater, giving players private instruction on the art of hitting a baseball. The Academy has branched out to Tampa, Brandon and soon in Houston.
"Hopefully we can get back to the days where we can put a competitive product on the field every year," Ciaravino said. "There's a lot of history here."
As for this year's team, there are more question marks than in years past. Some key players have graduated, but there is talent returning. Junior shortstop Jake Wegener, junior second baseman Shaun Whitcomb and junior right-handed pitcher and utility player Seth Parker all have experience.
Perhaps the top returner is senior third baseman Connor Berry. Berry is in his fourth season as a varsity player. He is familiar with Ciaravino, playing on his travel ball team from the ages 8 to 12.
"I think we will have a good season because he knows what he's talking about," Berry said. "We have some good freshmen coming in who will be able to help us right away. It is exciting knowing we are about to get going."
The regular season gets going Monday when the Warhawks host the annual Steve Georgiadis tournament. Seminole opens with IMG Academy and also plays Boca Ciega and Mitchell during the week.
Despite the bumps the past few seasons, Seminole is always a team to watch. That will be the case again this year in Class 8A, District 7. Ciaravino said the biggest emphasis in the early part of the season is finding a pitching staff.
He also is a stickler for the fundamentals and making sure practices are run properly. And like a football coach, he uses video to show players what they did wrong and corrections to make.
"We have the mindset that we're going to treat them like college players; we aren't going to screw around," Ciaravino said. "They have an 18-page handbook that they have to follow."
Berry knows that from past experience.
"If there's too much messing around he'll let us know," Berry said. "He's strict. He definitely pipes up."
Ciaravino doesn't know how long he'll coach at Seminole. He said he is focused only on this season and trying to squeeze as many wins out of his young team as possible. After spending some time in his father's construction business from 2000-05, he has made baseball his full-time career. Taking over at his alma mater seemed like the right thing to do.
"I'm in this because it's really something that I enjoy," Ciaravino said. "I really like helping these kids. I want to do this for as long as I can. As long as I enjoy it and they enjoy having me out here."
Steve Georgiadis Memorial Tournament
Where: Seminole High School, 8401 131st St N., Seminole
Monday: Boca Ciega vs. Inspiration Academy, 4; Seminole vs. IMG Academy, 7
Tuesday: Lakeland George Jenkins vs. Mitchell, 7
Wednesday: Boca Ciega vs. Seminole, 4; Mitchell vs. IMG Academy, 7
Friday: Inspiration Academy vs. IMG Academy, 4; Lakeland George Jenkins vs. Inspiration Academy, 7
Saturday: Boca Ciega vs. Lakeland George Jenkins, 1; Seminole vs. Mitchell, 4