I want to give major props to my former co-worker at The Ledger, Roy Fuoco, who put together a great package about high school softball’s history in Polk County this week.
Roy did three separate pieces for the package: A long summary of how Polk has dominated in state competition, a breakdown of the Bartow-Lake Wales series, and a list of the greatest teams in county history.
There’s not a person more qualified to write that piece than Roy, and I’m even thinking of Durward Buck when I say that. Dur has been around longer than Roy, but the county reached its pinnacle when it comes to softball when Roy was the preps editor at The Ledger. He got to see everything firsthand.
It’s incredible to think about what Glen Rutenbar especially has been able to do at Bartow. The Yellow Jackets won seven state titles from 1997-2006, including five in a row from 2002-2006. They’ve got a shot at another state title this year, with the FHSAA Finals being played this week in Clermont.
As amazing a job as Bill Castle has done with Lakeland football, Rutenbar’s record at Bartow is just as – if not more – impressive.
The best I got to experience when it came to Polk County softball was in 2009, when I covered
Auburndale, Lake Wales and McKeel at the FHSAA Finals in Plant City. None of the teams won the championship, but it was incredible to see three area schools represented in different classifications.
And Polk’s superiority doesn’t just stop at Bartow or the other three schools I just mentioned (all three have won state titles). Lake Region has won multiple state titles, Frostproof has a championship, Lakeland Christian made it to the FHSAA Finals in 2010, while George Jenkins, Mulberry, Lake Gibson, Haines City, and Winter Haven are usually very competitive. Even Tenoroc has made a playoff run in its short history.
There are even some incredible rivalries besides Bartow-Lake Wales. Some of the most fun I had covering softball came at McKeel-Mulberry games the past three years, and Frostproof has always been in that mix. Bartow and Lake Region had some incredible battles over the years, and the Class 5A district that has included those two schools with Jenkins and Auburndale the past two seasons produced some intense matchups.
So I encourage you to check out the stories by Roy and appreciate what has been built here in Polk County. We’re definitely more than just a football hotbed.