A Match Made in Heaven brings the excitement of a girls high school basketball program that changed the dynamics of an entire town. It’s a heartwarming story that touches your soul and a testament that love and dedication can unleash powerful results.
At its basis, it's the story of a man’s love for basketball and the players he coached during three plus decades. Through John Harder and the athletes who played for him, Bradenton Southeast High was able to bring an entire community together and raise girls basketball to a level of respect and popularity it had never before reached in the state of Florida.
There was no shortage of emotion during a glorious ride this coach and his players took their fans on through their glory and those moments when hearts are broken.
Famed college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale has compared Harder to the legendary John Wooden, while his peers and students at Southeast look at him as a miracle worker of sorts. The girls basketball teams he put on the floor changed the thinking of fans throughout the state, raising the sport to unforeseen levels.
Crowds packed the gym and some of the players became legends and mythical figures before they ever walked through their graduation line. There was guard Francine Houston, who fans compared to Allen Iverson and career scoring leader DePree Bowden, who Harder once said “has the sweetest jump shot I’ve ever seen.” Also: DeAngela Mathis, the consummate winner, who led Harder’s Seminoles to their final state championship in 2014; Bianca Hanna, who lifelong Chicago Cubs fan Harder called his Ernie Banks, and Briana Phillips, who never missed a practice or a game in four years of her legendary career.
Chountelle Bullock, who Harder only coached for one year but led Southeast to a state championship in his first season as head coach in 1985.
Included is a chapter of Southeast’s “victory that will live in infamy” which depicts its historic 2003 triumph over five time state champion Jacksonville Ribault that ended its 120 game win streak over Florida schools. Played before arguably the largest crowd ever to watch a high school basketball game in the Manatee-Sarasota County area, it has become classic that all players who followed looked to for strength and confidence.
Through it all, Harder brushed off the accolades, often said he had the best job in America and referred to himself as the luckiest man alive because of the talent that graced his team. “But they weren’t just great players, they were great kids and I would be proud to have any of them as my daughter,” he said.
As one coach at Southeast said, “after talking to John Harder, you always felt like a million dollars.”
This is the story of a man and his players, who turned their humble beginnings into a million dollar look.
For those passionate Southeast fans, this is an opportunity to relive the moments of some of the program’s heroes.