tampabay.com

Bishop Moore takes the fun out of Orlando

By VINCENT THOMAS
Published February 11, 2006


Orlando is a fun place. You can go to Disney and chill with Goofy. You can check out Universal Studios for some $65 thrills. Too hip for the amusement parks? You can hit Orange Avenue and party at Antigua or eat a good meal in Winter Park. Good times.

But if you're a Hernando County team and find yourself the runnerup in the District 8 tournament, Orlando is like a death bed. Orlando, more specifically Bishop Moore High School, is where Hernando County teams go to die.

All that sweat perspired during the season culminates in a two-hour trip to Orlando where the Hornets mop the floor or till the field with some helpless Hernando athletes, then yawn, breathe on their fingernails and brush them against their bone-dry jerseys. These Bishop Moore kids barely break a sweat.

Hernando has had three non-football squads advance to the Class 4A region quarterfinals: Nature Coast's volleyball and girls basketball teams and Springstead's boys soccer team. Since Bishop Moore is such a dominant program, that often means a trip to the Hornets' campus, with the buildings inspired by Spanish architecture, the labyrinthian parking lot with manicured walkways and palm trees.

Bishop Moore humiliated the Sharks on Thursday, allowing only 14 points. After the game, coach Sean Brady lamented that he did sort of wish his team was a bit more challenged before heading into the semifinals. In November, the Hornets did a similar number on the volleyball squad, sweeping the Sharks in straight sets. The boys soccer team didn't let Springstead score.

But who can blame these Hernando squads? They're up against a powerhouse.

In the past 10 years, Bishop Moore has had eight state champions and more than 20 region champions. Its baseball team was district champion from 1989-2003. The athletic program won the 2000-01 Class 4A All Sports Award, an honor that uses a point system based on postseason success. That academic year Bishop Moore's baseball, girls soccer and volleyball teams were state runnersup.

Athletic director Mike Malatesta said the school's success is a testament to a stable coaching ranks.

"Our best programs, boys and girls soccer, baseball ... they're the ones with consistent coaching," he said. Baseball coach David Wheeler is in his 13th season and weeks away from his 300th win.

You know what makes this harder to stomach for some of the players and coaches? Bishop Moore is a private school, which makes it free of zoning requirements public schools are subject to. Some students come from as far away as Leesburg, 50 miles from the campus.

The private school label is also, in some minds, almost a code for a school full of rich kids from all over Central Florida that brings teams to Orlando to end their seasons and then smack them in the face with wads of Ben Franklins.

They don't come out and say it. Jason Montgomery didn't walk down the "handshake line" at the end of the game saying, "I despise you spoiled brats and the palm trees in your parking lot." But he scowled, barely touched anyone's hand and happily said that Gulf would pummel the Hornets if they meet later in the tournament.

After Springstead's 3-0 region quarterfinal loss to the Hornets, Jason Bowie and Tristan Lowry said they were unimpressed, just like their coach, Sal Calabrese.

"Truthfully, no, I wasn't that impressed with them," said Eagles senior Tristan Lowry.

"They've got this great campus and have all that money and they're supposed to be so good. But, I think Pasco is a better team and they come from the same kind of place as us," Bowie said.

The Eagles campus is old; it's off of Mariner Boulevard where the best restaurant might be Nellie's Too. Bishop Moore's campus is pristine and expansive, just off of Edgewater Avenue with its fancy boutiques, wine bars and fine cuisine restaurants.

Ileana Santos' volleyball career died at Bishop Moore. By the end of the match, the Sharks weren't Sharks like Jaws, they were Sharks like Jack Black's Lenny character from Shark Tale . Bishop Moore had rendered them sheepish and overwhelmed. Still, Santos had this to say:

"They're not even that good."

Santos is a gifted athlete and ultra-competitive, so it's conceivable that she really thought that. But, if one didn't know any better, you'd think she and some of her fellow county residents have been drinking the Sour Grapes flavored Haterade.

Santos' coach, Maria Garcia, admitted after that game in November, that when her team got out of the minivans and saw the Hornets, the girls got intimidated. They were taller, stronger, more muscular.

Malatesta said there are more than 50 Bishop Moore graduates playing a sport in college - from Boston College football to California-Berkeley volleyball to Long Beach State water polo. They've already had five NCAA Division I signings this year and probably aren't done. It's no wonder that Hernando teams go to Orlando and die slow deaths.

Not to sound defeatist, but it's unlikely Hernando's whipping boy relationship with the Hornets squads will change. Bishop Moore draws from a larger, more talent-rich pool of athletes. According to Malatesta, the school's best programs are comprised of players who compete in their sports year-round. I'm sorry, but the local kids can't win this one.

There is one novel idea, though. Win your district. A District 8 title means a home game in the region quarterfinals, which means one of two things. Either you suspend Death in Orlando for one week, or maybe one of the local squads will get a chance to host Bishop Moore and show those babies nursed on region championships how they get down in The Ville or The Hill.

Or maybe the Hornets come here, win by a lot, go back home giggling and party on Pleasure Island.

--Vincent Thomas can be reached at vthomas@sptimes.com or 352-848-1430.