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Team "ready to get things rolling toward a state title"
By SCOTT PURKS
Published January 11, 2007
TAMPA - Baseball tryouts at Hillsborough High begin Tuesday and the Terriers' new coach, Ken White, said that despite some outside distractions he is "ready to get things rolling toward a state title."
The talent seems to be there, beginning with one of the nation's top players in outfielder Michael Burgess, pitcher Matt Schurig 16-0 in 2006, infielder Marco LaMonte and catcher Casey Nunez (both over .400 average in 2006).
Along with all the talent, however, comes an offseason of distractions that never died.
The emotional roller-coaster started in October when Pat Russo was fired as coach four months after he led the Terriers to a 30-5 record and into the Class 5A state final. Hillsborough High and county officials said the firing came after an investigation into recruiting violations.
Since then Russo has vowed to use lawyers and whatever other legal means necessary "to get my due process." On Wednesday, a day after a school board meeting in which Russo's situation was again basically laid to rest, Russo said, "My goal is to be totally exonerated and I want to coach my team before Feb. 8 (date of preseason classic).
"I don't know if I can coach my team by the first practice on Tuesday, but hopefully we can get this taken care of before the season starts."
But largely because Russo was not a full-time teacher at Hillsborough, it appears he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. As a part-time coach Hillsborough officials have almost complete jurisdiction over his firing or hiring.
Meantime, Hillsborough players, LaMonte said, are trying "to keep an open mind."
"This still has a lot of us upset," LaMonte said. "We still don't understand why Coach Russo had to leave. We feel like we were never given a full explanation. All of us loved playing for Coach Russo."
LaMonte said the team has "absolutely nothing against Coach White and if it comes to it we want to work hard for him." He added the team would still love to have Russo back, but "in reality, I don't think that's going to happen."
In lieu of returning, LaMonte said he hopes Russo will support the team. "If we could just see him in the stands supporting us that would mean a whole lot," LaMonte said.
White, who has been at Hillsborough two weeks as an economics and world history teacher, said he hasn't felt any huge disturbances.
"I have met with the players in groups of four or five and kept it real simple, talking about when tryouts are and what paperwork they need to get done," said White, who the past two seasons coached at Plant City. "On Tuesday we'll begin our tryouts and then by Friday we'll have the 20 players we'll go with.
"I'm eager to get going with this and start out positive."
White, who played at the University of Tampa from 1999-2001 and spent some time in the Baltimore Orioles organization, said he expected some rough spots coming midway through the school year to Hillsborough.
"It's a high-profile job," White said. "I know there are high expectations for this team, and I feel good about where this team is headed."