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Florida High Coach Charlie Ward says a great team and difficult schedule led to a state title


The Florida High Seminoles held on to defeat Riviera Prep and claim the school's first boys basketball title since 1963. In a post-game interview with WFSU, head Coach Charlie Ward credited the 67-66 win to a talented team, and a grueling schedule.

Ward has led the Seminoles to four district titles in four seasons. This year’s run ended with the trophy the team truly coveted.

"Losing in the first round, the last two years, was a driving motivator as well for the season," said Ward, "and, we just had very good chemistry with this group."

Every member of the Seminoles' starting five was an upperclassman. Tre Donaldson and Stratton Ponder are seniors. Anthony Robinson, Thaddeus Burns, and Christian Johnson are all juniors who saw significant minutes last year.

The road to victory

That collective experience was needed in the state semifinal and state final. In Wednesday’s semifinal game, the Seminoles trailed by 11 at halftime to Tampa Catholic. But late in the third quarter, Ward’s team began to get the stops they needed to whittle away at the deficit.

Burns scored 16 points in that game to lead the Seminoles to a 60-57 win and ultimately, their first state final in 23 years.

Tre Donaldson was the championship game's leading scorer. He’s heading to Auburn University in the fall on a basketball scholarship, and Ward credited Donaldson with helping the team secure the title.

"Tre was, definitely, the driving force behind this season," Ward said. "And, he mentioned he wanted to make sure that everyone had a ring. So, I appreciate him stepping up his leadership this year."

Donaldson finished with a team-leading 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his final varsity basketball game.

A grueling schedule pays off

The foundation for the championship may have been set in the weeks after the winter break when the team’s schedule was grueling.

The Seminoles played 11 games in January alone; with some of those losses coming to the best teams in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana. Eventually, the Seminoles went on a 12-game winning streak.

"We didn’t win them all, but we competed in some form or fashion," Ward said. "We learned. We got some of our weaknesses out during that time as opposed to the playoffs."

And that competition, he said, converted the Seminoles into champions.

Will Brown has served as a reporter at newspapers in Florida and Texas since 2007. He has earned journalism degrees from Florida A&M University and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He is based in Fleming Island.