Wheeler B. Leeth
First as athletic director and head football coach, then later as principal, Wheeler B. Leeth helped lay the foundation for Manatee High School in Bradenton to become the perennial football power that it is today.
Leeth coached the Hurricanes to an 85-30-7 record over a 12-year span from 1950-61, including a streak of 24 straight victories from 1954-57.
But Leeth was a winner long before that.
He was raised in the north Alabama community of Boaz and played football and basketball at Sardis High School.
Leeth was named to the All-State basketball team as a sophomore in 1936 after Sardis won the state championship. He was captain of the football and basketball teams as a senior, and was also valedictorian of his senior class.
Upon his graduation in 1938, Leeth entered the University of Alabama on a combination football/basketball scholarship. He was a member of the Crimson Tide's 1941 national championship football team and was named to the All-SEC basketball team as a senior. He earned a B.S. degree in Physical Education with minors in Science and Social Studies. He later earned a Master's degree in Physical Education and Administration at Alabama.
Leeth continued his athletic career in the military. At Fort Benning, Ga., he played football, basketball and baseball, leading the post basketball league in scoring in 1945. Leeth also was named to the All-Tournament Team as an All-American center at the National Congress of Independent Basketball Teams Tournament in Atlanta, hin which the Fort Benning Parachute School participated.
Following a tour of duty overseas, Leeth received an honorable discharge as Captain in the Parachute Infantry.
In 1947, Leeth was hired as head basketball coach, head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Tuscaloosa (Ala.) High School, where he helped direct the 1949 football squad to a state championship.
He was appointed athletic director and head football coach at Manatee in June 1950, and not only producted winning teams there, but quality players as well. Three went on to play in the NFL.
Leeth accepted a position as principal of Bayshore Junior High School in Bradenton in 1962, but returned to Manatee as assistant principal in 1963. At mid-term, Leeth became principal and served with distinction for 10 1/2 years. He was a member of the FHSAA Board of Directors for eight years as a district director and vice president.
One of three surviving members of the Sardis High Lions' 1936 state basketball championship team, Leeth's football and basketball jersey numbers were retired in July 1991.
Leeth is now retired and lives in Holmes Beach with his wife, Ruth. They have a daughter, Joyce Willis, two grandsons, and two great-grandchildren.