Boys and girls basketball programs wanting to make a run at a state title in late February will do so in the same building in which the state tournament has been housed for the past two decades.
The Florida High School Athletic Association announced last week a formal extension between its annual Final Four-style tournament for each classification and The Lakeland Center for the next three seasons, through the 2016-17 season. This year’s tournament will serve as the 20th consecutive season it has been held there.
The contract had not been renewed sooner with The Lakeland Center, which has housed the state championships for 33 of the past 38 seasons, because of rumored disagreements over authority, slumping attendance and distribution of profits.
Last week, after some negotiating, the FHSAA made its continued partnership with The Lakeland Center official.
“We look forward to continuing to showcase Florida’s best basketball teams in Lakeland,” FHSAA Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing said in a statement. “The local community has always been supportive of this event, and the Lakeland Center and FHSAA are both committed to ensuring a tremendous experience for our student-athletes, coaches and spectators.” The decision came as welcome news to many.
The Florida Association of Basketball Coaches formerly endorsed keeping the event at The Lakeland Center over the summer, and, for someone like Dr. Phillips boys basketball coach Anthony Long, who has been there five times with two programs, it came as a pleasant surprise.
“I was excited,” Long said of when he learned the championships would remain in Lakeland. “For me, selfishly, I like Lakeland just because I’ve gotten so many good memories there from that building and taking some of my previous teams there. It’s a good location; it’s centrally located (in the state). The venue is not too big, not too small — it’s about the right size.”
Long, who took teams from Dr. Phillips to state playoffs in 2007, 2010 and 2011 and won state while coaching Gainesville High in 1999 and 2000, believes there is something to be said for continuity.
“I do think there’s something to that,” Long said. “It is kind of special when it has been in one place for so long. … These kids are trying to get to the same building that maybe their own parents were trying to get to when they were in high school.”
Support of the decision was not universal, though. Some had hoped a change in venue would boost attendance numbers that have been trending downward and also offer a change of scenery for basketball in Florida.
Dr. Phillips girls basketball coach Anthony Jones, whose program reigned over girls basketball in Florida with a three-peat of state championships from 2011-13, counts himself among those who would have welcomed a change.
“It was about time for a new scenery, and I was shocked to see that no other cities would pick it up,” Jones said. “I know there is a little bit more involved that’s way over my head, but I was just very shocked and surprised that we couldn’t move states to another city.”
This year’s girls basketball state tournament will take place from Feb. 16 to 20, 2015, and the boys event will be held from Feb. 24 to 28, 2015.