PARRISH — When the Manatee County School District gave its fall high school sports teams two extra weeks to prepare for the regular season, Chris Culton gladly accepted the extension.
“The one thing I was concerned about was I didn’t want to fast-forward the process,” said Culton, the Parrish Community High football coach.
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic knocked out the 20 days of spring football practice, including the spring classic, and most of his team's summer workouts.
“The reason Florida football is as dynamic as it is is because these kids have been conditioning with spring football and summer workouts,” Culton said. “It’s the environment they grew up in and it’s a process.
“It’s a physical game too. And if you’re not prepared to play, you’re going to get hurt.”
Even when Culton got the green light to begin official workouts, it was a slow, laborious process.
“This is a contact sport and we are the caretakers of the sport as coaches,” said Culton, who spent one season as head football coach at Lakewood Ranch High before moving to take over the program at Parrish Community. “To move too fast would have been counterproductive.”
Entertaining a varsity roster with no seniors and some inexperienced players, Culton wanted to teach the basics, like heads-up tackling, along with stressing conditioning and hydration.
Oh, and there also were a bunch of new COVID-19 protocols, some of which required trial and error.
“There are a lot of logistics I wanted to work through,” said Culton, a former assistant football coach at the Naval Academy. “I told our administration, you’ve got to give me six or seven practices to screw up to make this thing work.”
The COVID-19 playbook became more extensive than the one the Bulls will use on Friday nights.
“Your game plan for COVID-19 and restrictions, that game plan has to be better than your game-day game plan,” Culton said “I’ve done a lot more paperwork. And that’s been frustrating. All I wanted was a clear set of rules, a clear set of guidelines and let’s go play.”
Parrish Community lost valuable practice time making certain the locker room was not overloaded with players.
“If you add up the time, it comes out to two or three practices,” Culton said. “The kids are doing a great job. They are adapting well. It’s the great unknown. But it’s worth it to play the game.”
So ready or not, the Bulls travel to Interlachen in Putnam County tonight — a more than 2½-hour trip north — for the program's first ever varsity football game.
Culton admits he “doesn’t know” if his team is ready for a game, but does not mind it being on the road.
“I can see what they are doing at their home stadium, as opposed to us just winging it,” he said. “You have to do this once or twice to figure out what you screwed up and what doesn’t work.”
Beleiving he and his staff of three assistant coaches are ready for just about anything, including if a player has an accident because he cannot use the restroom at Interlachen’s field,
“We’ve all had to pick up double duty,” Culton said of his staff. “Something will pop up and you said, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t think about that.’ You throw all those things in there and then you have a little thing called COVID, it’s nuts.”
Culton thinks all the adjusting and new procedures will help streamline the steps going forward.
“On the bright side, I love the process. It’s made you reevaluate every single process,” he said. “In the long run, the coaches who are really invested in this, when this clears up their programs will run smoother because you’ve had to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and every minute detail.”
And when he walks the sidelines as coach of a varsity football team for the first time since Nov. 2, 2018, Culton expects to have that same old feeling.
“I’m excited in a way adults get excited about the unknown. I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervous,” he said. “The kids have done what they’ve needed to do to get to this point. I’m blessed we’re doing this. A man’s job is to love, not just exist. I want to live.”
Sarasota Herald-Tribune Sep.17, 2020
First touchdown for the Bulls was scored by Kevin Everhart at Lemon Bay.
The Bulls won their first game against Poinciana 26-8.
There’s a new football program in Manatee. Here’s how PCHS is building it from ground up
OCTOBER 18, 2019 THE BRADENTON HERALD
The grass-field parking lot flooded with cars, while the path to the home side of the football stadium was greeted by a couple students wearing stickers on their cheeks and holding custom-made signs supporting the new kid on the block.
Later, the student section that formed near the band went crazy — almost as if a state championship was won — at the close of the third quarter when Kevin Everhart scored a touchdown.
It didn’t matter that the visitors were ahead comfortably or that the team they cheered for went on to lose 35-20.
What matters is that there’s now a football team in Parrish.
Manatee County’s newest public high school, Parrish Community, is in the midst of its inaugural high school football season.
School spirit and community support for the Bulls were at a fever pitch on this night despite a loss to Sarasota Riverview’s freshman team.
“I went to school at Georgia Southern, small southern town. This is as close to that hometown atmosphere as you can get,” Parrish Community head coach Christopher Culton said. “It’s really neat, the community support. We’ve got as many people that are members of our booster club that are retired that just want to be a part (of it).
Kevin Everhart runs the ball against Sarasota Riverview at Parrish Community High.
Tiffany Tompkins TTOMPKINS@BRADENTON.COM
“Our golf tournament, we turned away people. ... It was mostly people that were in the community that wanted something to cheer for. ... When this turns into Friday night, this place is going to be hopping.”
As a first-year school, Parrish Community has no upperclassmen. A student body of around 550-600 is mostly freshmen, with about 150-160 students who are sophomores.
For football, that translates into a junior varsity schedule this season; the Bulls are moving to varsity next season.
The Florida High School Athletic Association classified PCHS as a 4A school when the new classifications went into effect for the 2019-20 school year. There are no districts in Classes 1A-4A, leaving the Bulls free to schedule games without restricted district slots.
Fans cheer on their team during the game against Sarasota Riverview at Parrish Community High
Tiffany Tompkins TTOMPKINS@BRADENTON.COM
Defenders Mikeal Steele, David Jackson and Tanner Cloud take on a Sarasota Riverview player during game at Parrish Community High.Tiffany Tompkins TTOMPKINS@BRADENTON.COM
The allure of starting and building a program from scratch pried Shawn Trent from his athletic director post at Lakewood Ranch High to Parrish.
“I’ve been doing this for 20-something years, and I don’t really personally know anybody that’s gotten to open a school, especially from an athletic standpoint,” Trent said. “So kind of a cool thing to just be able to be the first person with feet on the ground and start from scratch.”
After one season leading the Mustangs, Culton also left Lakewood Ranch for Parrish.
What he encountered early on with the football team — most of the players would have gone to Palmetto High — was that half of them had never played the sport before.
“We had to go over penalties, had to go over this is the hash mark, this is the sideline, this is boundary, this is the field,” Culton said. “We broke it all the way down ... because these kids never played before.”
Based off projections from summer workout participation, Culton anticipated anywhere from 28-35 players for the Bulls’ first season. Instead, he had 72 players arrive at the beginning of fall camp with 67 who ended up dressing.
“We didn’t have enough pads, we didn’t have enough helmets,” Culton said. “The excitement was there.”
That excitement shot through Parrish, where the booming growth of the area paved the way for a new school and new football team to be born.
Like Palmetto High’s “One Town, One Team,” mantra, Parrish Community isn’t one of several high schools in a town.
Instead, it’s a place that is beginning and has the chance to grow even more as the next wave of students enroll.
“This is a sleeping giant,” Culton said.
Culton said the school plans to add 26 teachers next year, which will help create more staff. Currently, most of the staff is volunteering.
“We’ve got a chance to build a beast here,” Culton said.
Just like the backs of T-shirts sold during the game against Sarasota Riverview supporting Parrish Community High School, which read on the back, “Tradition starts now.”
Fans cheer on their team during game against Sarasota Riverview at Parrish Community High.
Tiffany Tompkins TTOMPKINS@BRADENTON.COM