The 2012 Manatee Hurricanes suffered an excruciating loss Friday as their state and national title hopes withered in a 35-18 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas. Twenty-two seniors will not have a chance for another shot at a state title.
The atmosphere at Brian Piccolo Stadium in Fort Lauderdale was tough for the Hurricanes, bordering on hostile. Before the game even started, chants from the home stands of, "over-rated" rung out. The chants extended deep into the game as the Hurricanes led for just the first few minutes.
By the fourth quarter, the over-rated chants wound up again. They were followed by the home crowd singing, "Ole." And then "nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, hey-hey-hey, goodbye" rubbed salt into the wounds of a monumentally disappointed team.
But just as the taunts subsided, the Hurricane cheerleaders struck up their own chant.
"We-still-love-you (clap-clap-clap-clap-clap)," they announced. "We-still-love you."
It was a spontaneous reflection of what a tight-knit family, the Hurricane nation is.
"Nobody planned it, we just kind of did it," sophomore cheerleader Caitlyn Doyle said.
Doyle and the other cheerleaders empathized with the wounded football team. Last year, at cheerleading state finals, the Hurricanes came in confident after winning regionals. Their performance in the finals was disappointing to say the least.
"We just kind of fell apart at states," Doyle said.
The empathy stretched beyond the cheerleaders as families took the field to console their athletes. Kim Cox and her mother Mary Strong were on hand to offer condolences to the team.
"They had an awesome season, they played hard, they worked hard, even though they lost, they fought through it together," Cox said.
Cox has two children who attend Manatee High, her daughter Klicia is a cheerleader while her son Khalyd is receiver on the football team. Cox herself is a Class of '87 grad, while her brother Dwayne Strong graduated in 1985. Cox said you can count on her being on the sideline next year, too.
Even parents who didn't have kids playing in the game, made the three-hour drive to Fort Lauderdale. Darren Shankle's two sons graduate from Manatee High and his daughter, Jenna, is a senior there.
"The atmosphere at Manatee games is awesome," Shankle said. "Everyone's friends, most of us all go to the same church, we all sit in the stands and have a great time."
Jim Moss, class of 1976 and father of senior kicker Greg Moss, came out on the field after the game. Moss has been attending Manatee football games for four years and enjoys the atmosphere created by Hurricane football.
"My son and I went to breakfast before school on Friday. There turned out to be a handful of other kids there with their parents, the kids wearing their football jerseys," Moss said. "It was like a Norman Rockwell painting."