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Money, competition spur teams

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

Since 1993, when the Florida High School Activities Association started allowing teams to play full preseason games, Clearwater has lost every one.

Most were not even close.

The Tornadoes have had the bejesus kicked out of them by a who's who's among state powers, including Bradenton Manatee, Bradenton Southeast and Haines City. Nevertheless, coach Tom Bostic sticks to the same scheduling formula. Tonight, Clearwater hosts Jesuit, which went 12-1 last season and reached the Class 3A region final.

"The games don't count," Bostic said. "So why not go out and try to play somebody tough."

Another reason the Tornadoes are willing to go anywhere at any time to get their faces refitted is the big payday that keeps their athletic department breathing.

The preseason games were created in 1993 to raise money for the FHSAA, which was in debt and had just bought a new office building in Gainesville. Tickets had to cost at least $3, and the FHSAA takes 25 percent of the gross receipts.

Those stipulations still exist, but the rest of the money is split between the competing teams, welcome revenue for county public schools. Operating under a centralized funding system, public school teams in Pinellas must divvy up revenue earned from gross receipts in jamborees and regular-season games. But in preseason games, the money from the gate belongs to them, said Bob Hosack, director of activities for the county.

"It's a real plus for us," Bostic said. "We get to play good competition, and we get to make some money, too."

Other teams have followed Clearwater's path. In the past few seasons, Northeast has played Haines City and Crystal River, and Boca Ciega has faced Naples, Rockledge and Manatee.

"We've had Crystal River on a two-year contract, and we'll probably renew it," Vikings coach Jerry Austin said. "But we don't go for a home-and-away series. We go away-and-away. We like traveling up there and getting our money."

Austin said Northeast gets $2,500 to play at Crystal River, and Bostic has received anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000.

Meanwhile, the opposite is happening at private schools. Shorecrest, for example, is paying to travel to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex to play Ocala St. John for the second straight year. "It's really a nice package that we get," said Chargers coach Phil Hayford, whose players each pay $160 for the trip. "We do it because the team likes it and team unity is important for us, especially having so many players playing both ways."

Balancing wins and dollars is a tricky business with preseason games. Bostic, however, insists his team is not on a mercenary mission. "I remember back in 1995, we played Manatee in the preseason. And I told my wife afterward that I thought we were going to be a pretty good football team," Bostic said. "She asked what the score was, and I told her it was bad. (Clearwater lost 61-10).

"After she stopped laughing, I told her I really believe that. That year, we won our district title and Manatee stayed home. In these games, the only way you lose is by not learning."

In tonight's game against Jesuit, the varsity players will play the first half followed by the junior varsity.

"We're trying to get a look at everybody, and if you sacrifice a win to do that, now is the time," Bostic said.

"But our goal is to go out and win the game."

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