RUSKIN — Lennard High School fans haven't had a ton to cheer about since the school opened up in 2006. But the Longhorns boys basketball team is changing all that in a hurry.
"They really are something, aren't they?" said school namesake Earl Lennard.
The Longhorns will enter the school record books today when they face Lake Minneola at 4 p.m. in the Class 6A state semifinals at the Lakeland Civic Center. It is the farthest any team has advanced in Lennard's brief history.
"We had a kid win state in the 400 meters and some individuals wrestlers reach the state tournament," Lennard principal Craig Horstman said. "This is unchartered waters for us in terms of team sports."
It also is for the student body. But Horstman said kids have quickly gravitated toward the team's success.
"Right now the support and happiness are at an all-time high," he said. "Everybody is talking about this game."
Earl Lennard, a former Hillsborough County school superintendent and supervisor of elections, said the excitement surrounding the team is being felt off campus as well.
"The surrounding community is really embracing this team and you can see the visible signs of support throughout the area," Lennard said. "The team has managed to really unite the school. They've lifted everyone's spirits."
Spearheading the charge has been a student section that calls themselves "L Block." The orange-clad group lead chants from the stands and have become a factor during the Longhorns' run.
"The atmosphere we had at our last home game (against Lehigh) was just crazy," Horstman said. "Coach (Danny) Gaddis said he thought (L Block) accounted for four to six points per game."
It's a far cry from the Longhorns inaugural 1-23 season in 2006. Lennard comes into today having won 10 in a row and 15 of their last 16. And the postseason has been magical. After capturing the first district title in school history, Lennard knocked off No. 10 Mitchell on a buzzer beater in the region quarters for the school's first-ever postseason win. They followed that up with a victory against No. 3 Largo before taking out Lehigh to reach the state semis. If The Longhorns are to continue their historic run, they'll have to do so against No. 1 Lake Minneola.
"We don't have a lot of size, but our players are fast," Lennard said. "And they do it with great teamwork. It's not just one guy. They play with great togetherness."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.