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FIRST SEASONS NEED A LITTLE SEASONING

The explosion of public schools on the North Suncoast in recent years is well documented. Most opened to alleviate crowding. In Pasco County, seven high schools were constructed by 1991. In the past 10 years, seven high schools were built on the North Suncoast, with two set to open next year. Inevitably, new schools net lots of students, many of them ready to join newly formed athletic programs. Suddenly, everyone wants to know how long it will take for the Anclote Sharks to win a game, or put together a winning program. The question has been raised and answered time and again. Wiregrass Ranch is the most recent example, off to an exciting 2-0 start in Year 3 with whispers of playoff potential. A glance at Sunlake in Year 2 has shown progress and promise. So, yes, Anclote can aspire to be a lot of things. It's just going to take time.

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Wesley Chapel

First season: 1999, 2-8 (one win by forfeit)

First winning season: 2001, 10-1 (playoff berth)

First coach: John Castelamare

History: No new Pasco County school in recent memory created more buzz than Wesley Chapel. Most schools in the county had weathered over time, but Wesley Chapel opened its doors as a gleaming new campus with all the amenities a high school athlete could want. After Pasco County schools drew a boundary around a portion of Dade City, many of the area's top athletes were zoned for the new school. Perhaps the most notable was running back Tyrone Tomlin, a Dade City resident and Wesley Chapel alumnus. The Wildcats enjoyed local dominance for four seasons, earning four playoff berths though they have never won a playoff game. Wesley Chapel's last winning season was in 2004 when the Wildcats finished 8-3.

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Mitchell

First season: 2001, 1-9

First winning season: 2004, 7-3 (playoff berth)

First coach: Scott Schmitz

History: The Mustangs, thanks to their population, have almost exclusively played in the state's larger classifications unlike most North Suncoast schools. But unlike most Class 5A schools, Mitchell often played with 4A and 3A talent. Mitchell has reached the playoffs three times despite just one winning season in its history. It has three playoff berths, no playoff wins.

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Nature Coast

First season: 2005, 2-8

First winning season: 2006, 8-3 (playoff berth)

First coach: Tom Keeler (began program with JV schedule); Jamie Joyner (first varsity coach)

History: The Sharks' program began with high aspirations as a JV program with talk of an undefeated season. Nature Coast finished 3-6 and lost Keeler after just one season. In came Joyner, who is credited with turning the program into the juggernaut it is today. The Sharks have gone 24-5 on the field the past three seasons, including three playoff berths. But controversy constantly surrounds the program with endless charges of recruiting, which led to sanctions from the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2006. Nature Coast became known for its roughneck style, twice brawling with Central and once with Groveland South Lake, leading to its disqualification from the 2008 playoffs. Nature Coast's status as a technical school opened its doors to any student in Hernando County. Some perceived that as an unfair advantage that could be cited as a reason to transfer to Nature Coast.

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Wiregrass Ranch

First season: 2007, 1-9

First winning season: So far, the Bulls are 2-0 in 2009

First coach: Ricky Thomas

History: Wiregrass Ranch opened to alleviate overcrowding at Wesley Chapel. And as Wesley Chapel had done to Pasco, Wiregrass pulled many would-be athletes through its doors. Thomas, a Pasco County icon, won the job as head coach, hoping to guide the Bulls to the success he first enjoyed at Pasco in the 1990s. But Wiregrass' first two teams finished 1-9, and Thomas realized his heart was with his family, and not the Bulls. Assistant Jeremy Shobe was hired, and the Ohio native - who had stops at several county schools - has the Bulls positioned for a 3-0 start if they can defeat Wesley Chapel tonight. The win would signify a shift in power between the schools and set a Wiregrass record for wins in a season.

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Sunlake

First season: 2007, 0-10

First winning season: N/A

First coach: Bill Browning

History: The Seahawks hired Browning, who had led Springstead to its first playoff berth in 1993, then Hernando to four more. What better man to do the job? Despite just one win in its first 20 games, there is optimism in Year 3 as Sunlake developed thanks to offseason 7-on-7 football and the addition of Gulf transfer Jacob Jackson.

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Anclote

First season: 2009

First coach: Matt Wicks

History: As many North Suncoast schools before it, Anclote opened its inaugural season with a varsity slate of games. Everything about Anclote is new, reminiscent of Wesley Chapel's first days. There is plenty of optimism and excitement as Wicks had predicted a promising season. The Sharks lost their opener 35-13 to Lakeland Victory Christian. Up next, River Ridge.

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@sptimes.com or (813) 421-3886.

fast facts

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North Suncoast public schools and the year they opened:

Anclote......................2009

Sunlake......................2007

Wiregrass Ranch..........2006

Nature Coast...............2004

Mitchell.......................2000

Wesley Chapel.............1999

River Ridge..................1991

Central........................1989

Ridgewood..................1983

Springstead.................1976

Hudson......................1975

Land O'Lakes..............1975

Gulf...........................1923

Zephyrhills.................1910

Hernando...................1889

Pasco........................1880s

(first principal documented in 1890 was F.E. Cooper, according to Pasco County schools records)

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