A contingent of James Manos supporters boarded a chartered bus Thursday and, shortly after 2 p.m., pulled out of the Citrus County School District Services Center parking lot. Their destinations: Dr. Phillips High School and Universal Studios in Orlando, site of the award ceremony and banquet for 2001 Florida Teacher of the Year.
Hours later, the group learned that Manos, a Lecanto Middle School technology teacher, would not win. The award instead went to Joseph Balchunus, an elementary school teacher from Broward County.
Still, the Citrus group, which was at least 20 strong, enjoyed the trip. Among those on the bus were Superintendent Pete Kelly; Manos' wife, Laura; and their sons, Michael and Jimmy.
Citrus County school and community relations specialist Linda Miller gave each bus passenger an "Our Man Manos" badge and a white carnation with a green ribbon. White and green are the school colors at Lecanto Middle.
Manos, 50, who is Citrus' teacher of the Year, also is the Florida Region II Teacher of the Year, thus making him one of five finalists for the top award. He met the bus in Orlando. The Manoses' daughters, Christine and Danielle, made their ways to Orlando separately.
The celebration began with a reception outside Soundstage 33 at Universal, where guests mingled with Scooby Doo, Woody Woodpecker, Doc Brown (from the movie Back to the Future) and a Groucho Marx impersonator. Then everyone filed into the banquet room, where the teachers of the year from each Florida county were introduced and then photographed with Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher.
After dinner, the Citrus entourage was bused to the Dr. Phillips High School Performing Arts Center for the live television broadcast hosted by Stand and Deliver star Edward James Olmos. The hourlong production included performances by the high school's students and students from a local middle school.
The highlights of the evening, though, before the actual announcement of the 2001 Florida Teacher of the Year, were short film segments of the five finalists.
Manos' clip was a lively piece that showed him at work in his classroom, included pictures of him at various stages in his life, and featured testimonials by admiring parents and students.
One girl in Manos' technology class said, "I started as a computer dummy, and now kids ask me for help!"
When the time came for Gallagher's announcement, the five finalists gathered on stage in front of a giant Burdines Teacher of the Year apple-shaped logo.
Balchunus, who teaches fourth grade at Fairway Elementary School in Miramar, received a $10,000 check, $1,000 for his school and a crystal conch made by Lennox. The four other finalists each received $5,000 and $1,000 for their schools.
Although he wasn't selected, the evening was nonetheless a triumph for Manos and his family. "I think that this whole experience was great, and I'm so proud of him," said daughter Christine, 23.
"We know we didn't succeed in our goal, (but) regional was well-deserved and we're happy," said son, Jimmy, 19.
"I'm proud, because my dad wants me to be as good a teacher as he is," said daughter Danielle, 21.
"We had fun, a great ending to a school year, for both him and me," said his wife Laura, 48.
Manos admitted the whirlwind of activities that have surrounded him ever since he was named regional winner has worn him down. "It's taken its toll on me," he said, "I'm looking forward to getting back in the classroom."
He's not disappointed, he said, that he wasn't named state teacher of the year. "How can I be disappointed?" he asked, citing the many blessings in his life: his wife of 27 years, four great kids and a phenomenal community. He also has said many times he loves his job.
"Disappointed? Most definitely not."