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Sebring falls short at Final Four

LAKELAND — After an unbelievable season the Sebring Blue Streaks were knocked out of the Class 5A Final Four. The Blue Streaks came up short 59-44 against the Rickards Raiders of Tallahassee. Thursday was without a doubt one of the biggest games of the Blue Streaks lives and they gave it their all and never gave up. The R.P. Funding Center had a sea of blue and white filling the stands as Sebring held their own but couldn’t surpass the Raiders.

Regardless, Highlands County is proud of the Blue Streaks team and the way they represented the City of Sebring during the season.

“This is a tough loss,” said Sebring Coach Princeton Harris. “The kids played extremely hard and that is all you can ask for. We didn’t get it done sometimes on defense but we are still very proud of them. We didn’t make some defensive stops when we should have and turned the ball over at some crucial points.”

Rickards jumped into the lead early in the first quarter with a nine-point run. Sebring narrowed the deficit when Eric Brown made a jump shot, a layup and free throw cutting the deficit to 9-5. The Raiders widened the gap with a 3-pointer by Ke’Varius Taylor. Sebring’s Ryan Brown stole the ball and charged down the open court for a layup. He was fouled on the play and converted the play into three points, bringing the score to 12-8 with :55 seconds left in the first. Rickards made a layup and the Blue Streaks answered with a layup by Tumblin, making the score 14-10 at the end of the first with the Raiders in a slight lead.

The Blue Streaks were on the Raiders heels in the second period. Rickards built their lead to 19-12 with 5:23 left in the half. Sebring went on a huge run with Tumblin sinking two buckets and adding a free throw. Eric Brown netted a 3-pointer and Tavion Coston contributed a layup pushing Sebring into a 22-19 lead. Rickards reclaimed the lead with a pair of jump shots by Zackary White, giving the Raiders a 23-22 lead with 2:11 left in the half. Sebring’s Ryan Brown made a layup but Rickards answered with a basket by White, giving the Raiders a 25-24 lead at halftime.

“This hurts,” said an emotional Ryan Brown. “We knew what we were getting into and we were prepared but it just didn’t go our way. The ball didn’t fall our way. I’m very proud of my team. We knew from the summer league that this is how far we would go. This was our goal the whole time but we wanted to win. I love my brothers I told them we would be here. This is a very hard loss. At halftime we were excited because we are a second half team but we came out too slow.”

In the third quarter the Raiders came out strong with a pair of buckets increasing their lead to 29-24. The Blue Streaks chopped at the deficit when Ryan Brown and Coston each sank a 3-pointer. Rickards went on a nine-point run furthering their lead to 40-30. Sebring’s Tumblin and Sholtz each netted a single free throw and Ryan Brown sank a 3-pointer making the score 44-35 at the end of the third with Rickards holding to the lead.

The Blue Streaks were unable to rally in the fourth as Rickards built its lead. The Raiders added five points at the start of the period. Blue Streak’s Sholtz netted a free throw and Tumblin banked a shot. Tumblin contributed 10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal for the Blue Streaks. Ryan Brown stole the ball and charged down the court for a layup and was fouled on the play. Ryan Brown made the extra point but Rickards still had a ten-point lead with a score of 51-41. Ryan Brown led Sebring with 16 points, 6 steals, 2 rebounds The Raiders went on a five-point run with three points at the line and layup by A’Drelin Robinson increasing their lead to 56-41. Ryan Brown netted a jump shot for Sebring and added a free throw but the Raiders held on to defeat Sebring 59-44.

“I am extremely proud of these young men,” Harris said after the game. “You can’t ask for a better group of kids. Of course, they are hurt but as a coach I am proud of them for their accomplishment of getting here. They have been battle tested, they have fought, they have been through somethings and we are just so proud of them. We have had a great season and worked hard to get here. This was a big goal for them and we are going to work to get back here. We are losing three seniors to graduation but it was a whole team effort today. We have made a lot of memories and photos to look back on. They should be very proud of themselves.”

Though Sebring’s season has come to a screeching halt, the memories will last a lifetime. The Blue Streaks put their heart into the game and hope to be back again next season.

Florida celebrates 175 years

SEBRING — You might not have noticed, but Florida turned 175 on Tuesday.

In 1845, Florida was admitted into the union along with Iowa, at a time when states were admitted in pairs — one free state and one slave state — to appease contentious politics in Washington, D.C., and prevent those in one camp or the other from passing legislation that the other side opposed.

Still, 16 years later, the nation already divided in politics became divided in the U.S. Civil War, still referred to as “The War between the States” in many former Confederate states, like Florida. When the guns died down, people went back to what they had done in Florida before “the war”: agriculture.

It’s still a big part of what makes Florida run, and according to seventh-generation Floridian and Highlands County Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre, that’s not likely to change.

“People don’t realize how much agriculture we have here,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre’s family came to Florida in 1820, one of many local families who came to Florida immediately after the United States purchased the territory from Spain in 1819. It was organized into a U.S. territory in 1822, but by then, settlers had already moved south.

Early U.S. settlers worked the wild cattle the Spaniards left behind, he said.

His family moved into what is now Lake County, west of Clermont, and eventually migrated south. By 1921, when Highlands County became a county, his grandfather started a dairy on Sparta Road in Sebring.

McIntyre said historians at the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Highlands Hammock State Park, the state’s oldest park, found a receipt of sale for several gallons of milk to the corps members.

In all, McIntyre said, his family did what many families did, diversifying into cattle, citrus and row crops in what was then open country.

Ray Royce, Lake Placid town councilman and executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, tells how his ancestors settled around Fort Meade, the army fort that gave its name to the town in south Polk County.

It was “pure wilderness,” Royce said. Several times, as family tales go, his ancestors had to stay inside the walls of the fort during the Seminole Wars.

Eventually, cattle drives would cross the state. The Florida Cracker Trail, which now is roughly the same route as State Road 66 and U.S. 98 through Highlands County, was how ranchers got cattle to ports for shipment up north.

However, citrus and other crops needed a different strategy. Avon Park historian Elaine Levey reports that oxen were the semi-trailers and bulldozers of the day.

Growers in this part of Florida used oxen to clear land by yanking out and dragging away stumps, and then had those same ox teams pull wagons full of citrus over rough sand trails, first to steamboat launches on the Kissimmee River and then later to railroad stations, once the railroads moved this far south.

By then, the early 1900s, the rails brought another thing south: Winter tourists, many of whom eventually became permanent residents.

McIntyre said all old towns in Florida have their historic commercial hubs centered around the railroad, because until highways were built and cars became more reliable, he said, “if you were going to travel, you went by rail.”

The trend has continued through today. McIntyre said growth has been the biggest change he’s seen in his lifetime. When he was a kid in the 1960s, U.S. 27 was a two-lane road.

He said the Army Corps of Engineers, during his childhood, between 1962 and 1971, channeled the Kissimmee River and created a 30-foot deep, 300-foot wide, 56-mile long drainage canal.

According to Florida Audubon at fl.audubon.org, the project converted 44% of the floodplain to pasture, draining approximately 31,000 acres of wetlands and removing the habitat from at least 39 species of fish and 38 species of water birds.

Kissimmee River restoration began in 1992 and has been the most successful ecosystem restoration initiative to date, Audubon reports.

Thus, in his lifetime, McIntyre and other agriculturalist families have seen a shift toward agriculture giving way to or coexisting with conservation.

Water supply is an issue now, McIntyre said, not only for animals or agriculture, but for the population, which almost doubles every winter.

With more retirees moving to Florida and more demand for transportation, what does he predict for the future?

“Take a drive up [U.S.] 27 and see what’s there,” he said. Areas around Clermont and Kissimmee have converted from groves and pasture to homes, shopping, hospitality and amusement. Florida is a tourism destination.

Still, despite losing land to airports and other development, Florida still has the best year-round growing seasons.

“I think agriculture will hold on strong. These are people who’ve been in agriculture for generations,” McIntyre said. “This climate is great for crops when the rest of the county can’t [grow them].”

2020 Backyard BBQ Bash a tasty way to spend time

SEBRING — Today kicks off the 2020 Backyard BBQ Bash, the annual Sebring Firemen, Inc. barbecue competition. The event starts today from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and continues from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Highlands County Fairgrounds. Admission is free and open to the public. Proceeds from the barbecue competition will go to Sebring youth athletics.

The name may be new but the friendly competition has been ongoing since 1994, according to J.C. Shoop, president of Sebring Firemen, Inc. The name change was to reflect a more homey, backyard feel.

The free family-friendly event will offer something for everyone’s taste, literally. About 13 teams, many first responders, will compete in the barbecue competition for their share of $30,000 in cash prizes. The categories are best ribs, chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

Local barbecue vendors will have their secret sauces and a shaved ice vendor will serve cool treats. Beer, wine, lemonade and desserts galore will also tempt patrons.

A free concert featuring the California Toe Jam Band will have everyone dancing from 6-9 p.m. tonight. From noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the Justin Grimes Band will be entertaining the “backyard.”

The youngsters will have fun on the free inflatables and can get their faces painted. A car show will thrill gear heads from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. At 11 a.m., the suspense will come to an end as People’s Choice is announced.

The hilarious hog calling competition will take place at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. The competition is free to enter and all ages are encouraged to give it their best “sooey!”

Shoop said the purpose of Sebring Firemen, Inc. is to provide the opportunity of Sebring youth to participate in sports or academics.

“We give scholarships,” Shoop said. “The last few years we have been able to give about $50,000 and that goes to the Sebring High School sports, bands and chorus. Last year we paid for the girls softball championship rings. I hope we have that same problem this year. We might with the boy’s basketball team.”

Shoop urges residents and families to head to the fairgrounds for two days of family entertainment with food, dancing and entertainment.