Sports Illustrated declared 1998 the greatest year in the history of sports. It's unlikely to go down as such in our area, but the sports scene certainly had its moments in 1998 in Hernando County.
Throughout the year, county athletes performed memorable feats. We've selected the year's five biggest sports stories and listed them in order. Obviously, it was difficult to choose just five, so a number of near-misses _ honorable mentions _ also are cited.
Most of the stories reflect Hernando County athletes in a positive light. A few of the stories involve negative, off-field incidents. Unfortunately, the year's biggest local sports story wasn't about a team or athlete excelling on the field of play, but about a coach/administrator undermining an athletic program.
1 TONY ZEFIRETTO RESIGNS
He was the man in charge of sports at Springstead High School, the caretaker of its athletic programs. He also was cheating those same programs.
Tony Zefiretto resigned as a teacher and baseball coach at Springstead on Sept. 1, less than two months after he had been fired as the school's athletic director.
Zefiretto was removed from the athletic director post because Springstead principal Donnie Moen said he wasn't balancing his duties as teacher, baseball coach and AD sufficiently. Zefiretto's ultimate resignation came in the wake of revelations about missing funds.
School officials began investigating Zefiretto, 41, after they learned that $39 was missing from a cash box. The internal investigation revealed that Zefiretto could not account for $2,844 worth of shirts and sporting equipment that he bought.
It may not seem like a lot of money, but it was enough to run the Springstead boys and girls tennis, golf and cross country teams, the girls basketball team, and the boys track team.
When Zefiretto, who came to Springstead in 1990 as a teacher and AD, returned the money and resigned, Superintendent John Sanders said he considered the case closed and did not request a sheriff's investigation.
An investigation by the Times, however, revealed several more instances of questionable actions by Zefiretto.
Among his alleged misdeeds: The president of a Sarasota sports equipment company said Zefiretto pressured a sales clerk to create a fraudulent document saying Zefiretto had purchased $2,805 worth of sporting goods; violating state law by purchasing baseballs for Springstead from his own company, All-Pro Baseballs; no gate receipts existed for numerous baseball games at which Zefiretto was supposed to collect admissions; persuading school employees to falsify a cash report; purchasing drink coolers that the school regularly gets for free; and purchasing rolls of athletic tape in amounts far exceeding normal standards.
Zefiretto, who became Springstead's baseball coach in 1995, declined comment when contacted by Times reporters.
It was a sad case of a person in power abusing that position. Those affiliated with Springstead athletics paid the price for it.
2 SPRINGSTEAD'S DUSTIN
SWANTON, JOHN STEVENSON
WIN STATE WRESTLING TITLES
For two years, Dustin Swanton and John Stevenson were bitter rivals.
Swanton, a wrestler at Ridgewood High, and Stevenson, at Springstead, went head-to-head on several occasions. Swanton won some, Stevenson won some. They rarely lost to anyone else.
At the end of the 1997 season, Swanton beat Stevenson in a regional match, relegating Stevenson to a tougher draw in the state meet. Stevenson was bounced early, and Swanton ended up as the state runner-up in Class 5A at 112 pounds, finishing with a gaudy 35-4 record.
Then Swanton transferred to Springstead and things really got interesting. With Swanton, a junior, wrestling at 119 pounds, and Stevenson, a senior, at 112, the Eagles became a juggernaut. And with Stevenson and Swanton sparring every day in practice, well, the duo became virtually unbeatable.
Actually, Stevenson was unbeatable. He capped a remarkable 43-0 senior campaign with a state title in March, routing Bobby Bossardet of Bunnell Flagler Palm Coast 10-0 in the final. Amazingly, Stevenson did not allow a single point during the state tournament.
Swanton took the mat right after Stevenson and grappled his way to a state title also, edging Joshua Wiles of Durant 4-3. He ended up 41-1 on the season.
Springstead finished third at the state meet, with Stevenson's brother Jimmy placing third at 130.
While Stevenson has graduated, Swanton is an early candidate to make this list again next year. He's unbeaten so far at 125 pounds.
3 JOHN CAPEL'S SPEEDY
JOURNEY TO UF _ FINALLY
Hernando High's John Capel used his blazing speed to win the 100- and 200-meter titles at the National Scholastic Outdoor Track & Field Championships as a junior in 1997. Then last fall, he applied his astonishing speed to the football field, rushing for more than 1,000 yards for the Leopards.
All of which led to mass confusion in January, when the South's leading college football programs began pressuring him for his services, asking for a commitment. And Capel gave it to them _ to many of them.
As the Feb. 4 signing day approached, Capel, at one point or another, had given four schools _ Clemson, Florida, Miami and South Florida _ a clear indication he would be signing with them.
When signing day finally arrived, Capel chose Florida.
That madness behind him, Capel's crazy year actually had just begun. Injuries, specifically a strained hamstring, spoiled his track season. Then he had a falling out with his track mentor, Rodney Byrd. Then, at the Florida-Georgia high school all-star football game this summer in Atlanta, Capel injured his elbow during practice. The injury at first was thought to be so severe that Capel would be forced to redshirt come fall, but when the season began, the Gators were using him on kickoff returns.
A backup wide receiver in addition to returning kicks, Capel saw limited action this season but flashed his incredible acceleration on a few occasions. Saturday night he'll begin 1999 by playing in the Orange Bowl when Florida meets Syracuse.
4 CROGNALE GUIDES CENTRAL TO
BEST FOOTBALL SEASON EVER
When a school is barely a decade old, having the best season in school history might not seem like much of an accomplishment. But don't tell that to the 1998 Central Bears.
Dominated by seniors but coming off a 3-7 campaign, Central rolled to an 8-2 regular season and a state playoff berth, succumbing to state-ranked Crystal River on the road in the opening round to finish the year 8-3.
The previous best Central seasons were 1990 and 1996 when it went 7-4.
While the defense was rugged and steady and the special teams were excellent, it was the Bears' relentless ground attack that made the difference in most games.
During the regular season, Central outscored its opponents by 160 points, 308-148. The two losses came to Pasco (which went 11-1) in double overtime and at Crystal River. By comparison, Central was outscored 124-259 the previous season.
Perhaps most impressive was Central's overcoming the loss of standout offensive tackle Joe Condron. A 6-foot-7, 311-pound blocking force, he broke his foot in practice before Central's showdown with Hernando on Sept. 25, the fourth game of the season. Nevertheless, he played the entire game in the 24-21 win, but the injury worsened and he missed the next several games. Condron wouldn't be a factor for the rest of the season, but the Bears continued to play well.
Central placed nine players on the Times All-North Suncoast first and second team. Eight are seniors: Condron, Eric Coon, Anthony Daniel, Jason Holley, Ed LaRose, Rejean Savard, Jimmy Sterling and Brandon Valenca. The lone junior is Darrell Scott.
5 LAGEDROST CONTINUES TO
MAKE MARK ON GOLF COURSE
Kelly Lagedrost graduated from Hernando High in 1997 with an individual Class 4A state title in golf on her resume. Moving on to college in 1998, the Brooksville resident experienced continued success.
Lagedrost was the No. 1 player in the spring for South Florida, leading the Bulls with a 76.2 stroke average. After the college season ended, she moved on to summer amateur events. In May she blitzed the field at Brooksville Golf & Country Club, winning the Dogwood Invitational by eight strokes. After a so-so 78 on the first day, she came storming back with a course-record 65. It was the best round of her career.
Lagedrost's next big achievement came at the U.S Women's Amateur qualifier at Black Diamond in July. In a field of 55 of the best women's golfers in the state of Florida, Lagedrost was medalist with a 74 on the famed Quarry course. She birdied two of the last three holes _ her only birdies of the day _ to tie former Alabama standout and Jacksonville resident Kathryn Cusick for top honors.
While Lagedrost was off her game at the Amateur in Ann Arbor, Mich., in August, missing the cut by several strokes, she bounced right back. The left-hander with the smooth, easy swing had a great fall season for USF. In September she finished second at the Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill, N.C., shooting a 3-under 213 for three rounds to finish a shot behind Duke's Candy Hanneman.
In October at the 19th annual Beacon Woods Invitational in Bayonet Point, which is hosted by USF, Lagedrost led the Bulls to their first win in the event since 1993. Individually, she was runner-up again, with a three-round total of 222, one stroke behind Pam Buff of Tulane.