Had we wished, we could have created an entire North Suncoast year-in-review package with the events that have transpired in the past six weeks alone. To be sure, 2008 has ended with a football-crazed flurry, but it began pretty auspiciously as well (remember Gary Anders' 500th win on Jan. 18?). In between, we've watched state champions get crowned, strikeout records get challenged, and one-time star athletes get sidetracked. All in all, it has been one of the most eventful years we can remember. Here are our 10 biggest stories (in order).
1. Sharks DQ'd from playoffs
A shot at a perfect season for the Nature Coast football team ended with an announcement by principal Tizzy Schoelles during a Wednesday afternoon practice: the season was over. The Florida High School Athletic Association canceled the Sharks' final two games after a bench-clearing brawl at Groveland South Lake. Nature Coast finished the season 9-2, but coach Jamie Joyner maintains the Sharks were undefeated on the field.
2. December football in Dade City
Pasco enjoyed arguably the second-best season in North Suncoast history, coming within one victory of playing for the Class 3A state championship. The Pirates' unanticipated run through the playoffs created many lasting memories: the first playoff victories in 10 years; a 50-0 win over Gulf; Jarrod Carmody's strip and fumble recovery to secure a classic 13-12 win over favored North Marion; a good fight in a 28-14 loss to Tallahassee Godby in the state semifinals.
3. Tom Fisher retires after 20 years
Perhaps the best X's and O's coach to ever guide a Pasco County football team shocked the Zephyrhills faithful with his announcement at a team banquet that he was retiring. It took only a few paragraphs for Fisher to say goodbye, but his legacy will live on for decades. Fisher is credited by his peers for doing the most with the least. His teams were always feared and respected despite limitations in numbers relative to most opponents. Fisher compiled a career record of 124-81 and produced several Division I recruits.
4. A "Golden" year at Gulf
First, junior tailback Adrian "Bubba" Golden astounded his Ridgewood teammates by transferring to Gulf on practically the eve of the first preseason practice. Then, he astounded everyone else by emerging as the area's premier offensive weapon. A 5-foot-8 package of speed, shiftiness, vision and lower-body power, Golden set Pasco County records for rushing yards in a game (432) and season (2,514).
5. Anders earns victory No. 500
Moments after longtime Ridgewood boys basketball coach Gary Anders earned his 500th career win with a Jan. 18 overtime triumph at Land O'Lakes, Gators coach Dave Puhalski presented Anders the game ball. This poignant culmination of the evening belied the high-stakes intensity and drama that preceded it. Rams junior guard Alvin Satram forced overtime with a jumper at the buzzer, and senior Derrick Zio, who had a 104-degree fever earlier in the day, sank a clutch free throw with eight seconds remaining in overtime to help preserve the 70-66 win.
6. Adversity for Arline
The year after he set North Suncoast rushing records, ex-Ridgewood star Byronell Arline's career and personal life were thrown for significant losses. Even sadder, Arline did the throwing. He signed with Dodge City (Kansas) Community College and arrived there over the summer, but returned home in less than a week. Then in September, Arline was arrested in New Port Richey on a felony charge of crack cocaine possession. His case recently was transferred to drug court; should Arline complete a rehabilitation-type program, he could have the charge dismissed.
7. Favorite son returns to Hernando
When 1983 Hernando High graduate John Palmer returned to take over his alma mater's floundering football program, he arrived in a white pickup. For many Leopards fans, it may as well have been a white horse. Palmer, son of ex-Hernando coach and Florida prep football legend Dub Palmer, was hired in June to help resuscitate a team devoid of a winning season since 2002. The Leopards struggled mightily this past season (3-7), but many still believe Palmer, who won a Class A state title at Port St. Joe in '05, eventually will restore Hernando as a local power.
8. Nationally ranked Gators fall early
One lapse in judgement resulted in a goal and that was all it took to end the Gators' most promising soccer season to date. Land O'Lakes fell 1-0 to Freedom in a Class 5A region quarterfinal, and the season came crashing down. The Gators had matched the most wins in school history (25), the longest win streak (15) and a top-five national ranking. Land O'Lakes finished 25-2-1, and the pain from that season still stings many.
9. Schuster ties strikeout record
On a windy Monday night in mid April, Mitchell junior left-hander Patrick Schuster turned in what may have been the most dominant pitching effort in Pasco County prep baseball history. Schuster fanned 20 Gulf batters in a 10-3 romp, tying a 51-year-old mark set by Pasco's Don Porter. Overwhelming the Bucs with a sinking curve ball, Schuster struck out 14 of 15 Bucs and nine in a row. Seven months later, he signed with the University of Florida.
10. Montelongo nabs North Suncoast record
Blessed with a powerful foot with rich bloodlines in soccer, former Pasco star Jose Montelongo set the North Suncoast's all-time scoring record with 143 goals as a four-year varsity player. Montelongo, who now plays for Saint Leo, is best remembered for how hard he struck the ball. No matter the distance, if he nailed the ball on the sweet spot it was probably going to find the net. Montelongo also set the single-season scoring mark as a senior with 48 goals, breaking the mark he set as a sophomore (43).
Barely missing the cut
• After a painful loss to Palatka in the decisive game of the best-of-three Class 4A region baseball final, longtime Pasco coach Ricky Giles retires. About an hour later, he un-retires.
• Scott Schmitz, the only coach to start the football programs at two Pasco County schools (River Ridge, Mitchell), retires.
• Land O'Lakes junior softball standout Michelle Bradley sets a North Suncoast single-season record with 10 home runs.
• River Ridge's football team, loser of 38 of its past 39 games, shocks Springstead 31-14. The Knights win three of their final four games.
• A year after all-time scoring leader Sthefany Thomas graduates, Wesley Chapel's girls basketball team reaches the Class 5A region finals.
Other top stories with North Suncoast ties
• West Virginia junior Alex Ruoff (Central) named academic All-American; leads Mountaineers men's basketball team to Sweet 16 berth.
• Quarterback Greg Jenkins (Wesley Chapel) leads Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to a 10-2 record and bowl victory.
• USF redshirt freshman quarterback Alton Voss withdraws from school, citing a lack of desire to keep playing.
• Diminutive Troy University fullback DuJuan Harris (Central) notches a 1,000-yard rushing season, leads Trojans to New Orleans Bowl.
2008 North Suncoast state champs
• Eric Stroud, Pasco (wrestling)
• Schuyler Swanton, Springstead (wrestling)
• Keari Brink, Ridgewood (pole vault)
• Brad Morrison, Sunlake (swimming)