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ports Manatee County Is Great Sports and More


BRADENTON -- They say it's not bragging when it's true -- I see it as giving credit where credit is due. The "Destination Manatee" program headed by Sharon Hillstrom and driven by an outstanding cast of athletic professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders certainly has earned bragging rights. Hillstrom, president of the Manatee County Economic Development Council (EDC), has put the heart into connecting the training camps, professional groups and competitive institutions that are developing into the most productive and diverse athletic community in the state of Florida.

Of course she hasn't accomplished this alone. Tthere are too many contributors to mention, all worthy of a bow, but I'll attempt to connect just some of the dots. First, it goes without mentioning that without the efforts and commitment of the Board of County Commissioners, these community based economic development programs (EDC, the CRAs and the CEDC) would not be able to accomplish the feats needed to succeed at being an authentic community success.

No doubt, having Nick Bollettieri, president and founder of IMG Academies, and leaders in his organization like Chris Ciaccio, have certainly equipped the county with a team capable of training and producing one success after another. Their programs are extraordinary and their successes speak for themselves, as do those from the Premier Sport Campus in Lakewood Ranch, where Tim Mulqueen, Director of Sports, oversees 75 acres of soccer, football and rugby fields and the future pros on them.

We have a world class Regatta Sports Center equipped with 1.9 million square ft. of regional mixed-use facility. Its facilities expand through Manatee and Sarasota county and

is known as the Cattleman extension of the competitive rowing center at Nathen Benderson Park  that is just south of the Manatee/Sarasota county line.

We have the only university rowing team in the state and many teams from around the country come here to train. There is talk of hosting the world rowing championship and other water sport games, and both counties are happy to be on the international rowing map. It's not just the many different rowing sports (Kayaks, dragon boats and canoes) that the facilities were built for, it can also handle a multitude of sport games simultaneously. Many see the facilities as a venue for triathlons and other sports, as well as festivals.

Matt Ennis, Athletic Director of State College of Florida, has 30,000 students enrolled at SCF, and some of them chose the school for their sports program. But it's not just the schools and sport camps that make Manatee County the recognizable sports hub it is becoming. It is the people whom have decided to make this area their home and invest in the future generations that get the end credit.

Senior Director of Operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Trevor Gooby, and NFL veterans like Michael Gruttadauria, as well as many others who have come from the pro football, hockey and major league teams that surround the area, and work and mentor in the sports industry here in Manatee.

Many of them, like Gruttadauria, have chosen to start their own business (ARMagnet) here and many sport-affiliated businesses like graphic studios, sport equipment designers and sports medicine physicians have chose to locate here as well. The experiences these individuals bring to the region also resonates through the the lives of our youth. 

It's not just the sport camps that produce the athletic stars in the area either. All of the pro sports world is keeping their eyes on the public schools too. It is not a surprise that the Manatee High Hurricanes, coached by the legendary Joe Kinnan, won their 7A Championship Title with a score of 40 to 0 - the school's fifth state crown.

Another one of the many notable accomplishments in high school sports; the Lakewood Ranch Golf Team are winners of the 2-way 2011 Championship with an undefeated season. Their nine regional and 1 local tournaments leaves them with a winning record of 103 to 0, all while maintaining a group 3.19 grade point average. Look-out PGA.

The Sarasota/Bradenton International airport put us on the map, our premier Port Manatee is becoming Florida's International Gateway, and now our sports industry is championing Manatee into the future, rivaling any other area in the country. These are some of the economic engines and incentive packages, that keep people here, allowing the quality of life to be our compass.


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