With the commencement of the area's high school seniors arrives closure to another prep sports season — one that may have set a record for full moons. To be sure, the 2008-09 season raised the bar for bizarreness. When reflecting on it, we see things wacky, wild and downright weird. So much so, we've compiled a list of the year's 10 strangest stories on the North Suncoast.
1 Schuster makes headlines. Then history. Then 'SportsCenter.' In a 26-day span, senior left-hander Patrick Schuster evolved from Mitchell High ace to media sensation. During that stretch, the projected early-round big-league draft prospect tossed a Florida record four consecutive no-hitters. When Schuster tossed no-no No. 4, at home against Pasco, he made ESPN's SportsCenter. When the streak ended, with a third-inning double by Gaither's Drew Doty in an April 28 loss, the media throng following his every move had reached A-Rod proportions. The day before the streak ended, we asked Schuster if he would be relieved when it was all over. "Of course," he said. He was.
2 No lights, no cameras, tons of action First, the lights at Groveland South Lake's football stadium mysteriously gave out. Soon thereafter, Nature Coast's promising football season went dark. In the waning minutes of the Sharks' 40-24 win on Nov. 7, power was lost on the field. That was followed, according to an officials report, by both benches clearing and players from both sides fighting. The fallout: Nature Coast was forced to forfeit its season finale against Central, disqualified from the postseason and fined $10,400 by the Florida High School Athletic Association. A copy of the game film we obtained shows a pair of Nature Coast defenders breaking into the South Lake backfield on the final play, and the screen going black just as they converge on the quarterback.
3 A big exit for the 'Big O' Few saw this coming, least of all the parents of Bishop McLaughlin's boys basketball team. A 366-game winner in 23 seasons at Springstead, Greg O'Connell emerged from retirement in 2007 to take over the program at the tiny Catholic school in Spring Hill. But he abruptly quit, hours before a Jan. 2 game, after a brief encounter with some parents who had issues with his stringent policies. "I only went there because of the discipline," said O'Connell, who had suspended some kids for being one minute late to a shootaround, and booted four players from a morning practice for arriving late. "I'm ashamed to tell you I'm a Catholic."
4 Change of schools, then change of heart We're still trying to sort this one out. Roughly four months after transferring to Tampa Catholic for what was believed to be family-related reasons, standout Land O'Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford returned to the Gators, just in time for spring practice.
5 Sterling effort trumped by Golden one In an early-October home game against Gulf, Ridgewood tailback Sterling Ross had what may have been the quietest 300-yard rushing night (31 carries, 306 yards to be exact) on record. Why? Gulf counterpart — and Rams transfer — Adrian "Bubba" Golden ran for 432, and the Bucs won 52-28. Ross' consolation: a record. His and Golden's combined 738 yards broke the year-old state mark for combined rushing yards by two players in the same game.
Our bizarre bottom five
• Pasco pitching ace Henry Johnson misses the season after dislodging a vertebra while horsing around during a January practice. We're just glad this story was merely strange and unfortunate instead of tragic.
• The North Suncoast's two longest-tenured football coaches — Land O'Lakes' John Benedetto and Zephyrhills' Tom Fisher — step down in the same year. Fisher exited on his own terms; Benedetto not so much.
• River Ridge's baseball team, an otherwise respectable 12-win club, is no-hit twice in a six-day span in April.
• We'll refer to this one as the 'Dog days of spring. Zephyrhills' No. 2-seeded softball team loses in the district quarterfinals after No. 7 Hernando scores six runs in the sixth for an 8-7 shocker. Not to be out-rallied, the Bulldogs' third-seeded baseball team loses a week later in the district quarterfinals when lower-seeded Nature Coast rallies for five seventh-inning runs in a 5-2 upset.
• Three football teams — Nature Coast, Wiregrass Ranch and Land O'Lakes — go through all or part of spring drills with interim coaches.