When Jormonte Hunter finished his VBHS career with 35 total TDs in November, I wonder how many people knew he was behind only Chauncey Stovall (64), Thomas Footman (45) and James Stewart (42) all-time?
Why would I know?
After spending nearly all of 2010 writing a book on the last 30 years of Fighting Indian Football, it is one of many things I’ll never forget about the biggest and best sports program on the Treasure Coast. Spending a few hundred hours in the library studying microfilm, and about 100 more hours interviewing dozens of players, coaches, and supporters of the program left a lasting impression on me about the Vero Beach community. Love for the VBHS program is as ingrained into people around here as it is in great college towns like Lincoln, NE, Gainesville and Tallahasse, FL, and Austin, TX. Billy Livings, Vero’s head coach from 1980-2005, had more than a little something to do with that. He personally drove season ticket sales when he rolled into town and he got involved with as much of the community as he could. People would come out to the football game to watch the flamboyant coach pull rabbit after rabbit out of his bottomless hat. His plan to make VBHS football the hottest ticket in town was a plan that has lasted over 30 years.
According to Kenny Holmes, the most successful amongst the VBHS players who made it to the NFL, businesses shut down early when he was growing up because everyone was going to the game. This was back when there was one public high school for the whole county, and back when the Citrus Bowl would draw 7,000-10,000 fans for big district games like Merritt Island and Orlando Maynard Evans. The legends of VBHS fans filling seven chartered buses for road games are true.
Sebastian got their own high school football team in 1994, and Indian River County was no longer united under one football program. Sebastian River, though, did draw heavily from Vero Beach in starting their football program. Longtime VBHS assistant Doug Baker was named head coach, and was succeeded by Randy Bethel, a three-year standout at VBHS from 1984-86. Bethel was an unquestioned leader even back then. SRHS Assistant Principal Billy Wilson, Jr. was the first in a great line of all-state wide receivers at VBHS–he still holds the school record for receptions in a season with 72. He was later joined by his father, Bill Wilson, Sr., the legendary assistant head coach and two-time state champion track coach for Vero.
All of these years later, where does VBHS Football stand? Although Vero is still, by most accounts, a very successful program, it is impossible to know the answer to that until next fall. New coach Lenny Jankowski has only been in town for a week, and the team is graduating several key starters. Fired coach Gary Coggin went 35-20 over the five years over five seasons after Livings stepped down. Among other things, the message was that winning seven games a year and just getting to the playoffs wasn’t good enough for this proud program. Vero made seven state semi-final appearances from 1980-1998, but has mustered just two state quarter-final appearances since.
Not to say Vero hasn’t played good football lately, because they have. The 2002 team was ranked 16th in the country and was a perfect 12-0 when they lost to Venice in the quarter-finals. Vero returned to the quarter-finals again in 2003. Anybody who played on the 2004 team will tell you that they were poised for a deep run in the playoffs. Four Hurricanes ripped through the Treasure Coast, though, and destroyed the momentum Vero had gained from defeating mighty Pahokee in the pre-season Kickoff Classic. Vero controlled their playoff game against Park Vista in 2007, and was all but in the third round when they lost the game late.
Digging into all of that old microfilm was like reading a great novel in fragments–each season a chapter, complete with heroes and villains. My job was to decompose the information in game summaries and box scores and construct it into something enjoyable to read . . . and, oh yeah, include lots of pictures too. I can’t thank local photographers J. Patrick Rice and Michael Siegel enough for their photo contributions.
I would also like to thank long-time VBHS Yearbook Advisor Donna Griffith for providing me with great material to borrow from. Her yearbooks are such a great source of local history, and most of them are available to the public at the country library. I’d also like to thank current VBHS Yearbook Advisor Sarah Jones–she and her staff were very accommodating.
Last but not least, thank you to my wife, Erin Grall, and her sister, Heather Grall. Their experience as both yearbook editors and advisors made this project shine. Tradition: VBHS Football 1980-2010 is a professional grade coffee table book because of them.
To learn more about the book go to www.vbhstradition.com