Dunedin football goes from Class 5A to independent

The Falcons, who have lost 43 straight, are the area’s first public school to go that route in 10-plus years.
Instead of competing in a travel-heavy district that now includes  Bradenton Bayshore, Chamberlain, Gibbs, Jesuit, Sarasota Booker and Robinson, Dunedin coach Mitch Disney opted to go independent for the next two years. (Courtesy of Tracy Stephens)
Instead of competing in a travel-heavy district that now includes Bradenton Bayshore, Chamberlain, Gibbs, Jesuit, Sarasota Booker and Robinson, Dunedin coach Mitch Disney opted to go independent for the next two years. (Courtesy of Tracy Stephens)
Published January 17

Faced with playing in a competitively and geographically challenging district for the next two seasons, Dunedin’s football program has decided to become an independent.

The Falcons are the first public school program from the area to go that route in more than a decade.

In December, the Florida High School Athletic Association released the classification and district assignments for football. Dunedin was placed in Class 5A, District 12, which includes Bradenton Bayshore, Chamberlain, Gibbs, Jesuit, Sarasota Booker and Robinson.

The state’s governing body for sports said there would be no appeals. If schools did not like where they were placed, their only option would be to become an independent.

“It was not a tough decision,” Dunedin coach Mitch Disney said. “I think that district would have been tough on most Pinellas teams. This is what is best for our kids and for a program that has been building from the ground up.”

This is not the first time Pinellas County public schools have opted to become independents.

In 1993, Countryside, Northeast and Seminole decided to play an independent schedule rather than journey across the Sunshine Skyway to enter a district that included state title contenders Bradenton Manatee and Bradenton Southeast. Northeast and Seminole also did the same thing from 1985-87.

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The Falcons were once a powerhouse during that time, advancing to two straight title games (1986-87). But in the past five seasons, the program has struggled mightily, losing 43 straight games.

The prospects of snapping that losing streak were dim considering the district included five teams that finished at least 5-5 in the regular season last year. Jesuit ended up playing in the state semifinals for the third time in four seasons.

Gibbs was the only team with a losing record in the new district. One of the Gladiators’ two wins last season was a 43-9 rout of Dunedin.

Travel was just as much of a concern. Five of the teams are in different counties. The closest team, Gibbs, is 44 miles away roundtrip.

“No one was in proximity to us,” Disney said.

When Disney first took over the program three years ago, there were 12 players. The numbers have significantly improved, going from 23 in 2017 to 50 who showed up for the first meeting this offseason.

Still, it was enough to just field a varsity team.

During Disney’s first two seasons, the Falcons did not have a junior varsity program.

That is going to change this season, he said.

To be competitive in varsity, Disney is trying to put together a schedule of more evenly matched opponents. He said he plans to play Keswick Christian, Northeast, Osceola, Palm Harbor University and Seminole in the fall.

“Everything about our program is trending in the right direction, but now we have to win on the field,” he said.

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