By Scott Lockwood, Venice Gondolier Sun
VENICE — Long before the Venice High School baseball team’s run of five straight appearances to state finals and four state championships since 2007, there was another Indians squad from 61 years ago that is credited for laying the foundation of one of the nation’s most successful baseball programs.
Flash back to the spring of 1955, when a group of players that had played together for five years took the field for the then-Venice-Nokomis High School and went all the way to the state finals for the first time in program history.
The team was led by Dick Brown, now 90 and living in Rotunda. Brown said he has some seventh- and eighth-graders play that season, a necessity given the school had fewer than 130 students.
That 1955 squad was led by talented all-around player and future Junior College All-American Jon Wimbish — a player Brown said was the best he ever coached — junkball pitcher Harvey Cashion, catcher Dickie Smith, multi-sport star and first baseman Ed Gay, third baseman Trevor Hutson and outfielders Bobby Zucker, Roland Kappleman and Frank Peterson.
Venice-Nokomis defeated Punta Gorda (now Charlotte High School) and Naples and won the program’s first outright district title that season.
Venice-Nokomis went on to the regional tournament in St. Petersburg and defeated Brandon, East Bay and Largo to reach the Class A Final Four.
Venice lost the semifinal to Winter Park 9-3 and finished the year with a 19-2 record.
Craig Faulkner, a four-time state champion coach at Venice, said he fondly looks back on the time he played under Brown (in junior high basketball) and said he still uses some of the lessons he learned.
Brown still attends some home games at Venice and said the current Indians, a team that became the first public high school to reach the state finals in five straight seasons in 70 years, is “as good as many, many small college teams — or better.”
“The coaching is what’s doing it,” Brown said. “They’re well-behaved kids because they have great coaching. The hitting is phenomenal and you don’t see many of them stepping in and striking out. They’re always getting the bat on the ball and the ball is going somewhere. It’s very impressive.”