FHSAA announces top teams by decade; names ’96 Union County squad small school team of the century

GAINESVILLE – The Florida High School Athletic Association, as part of its ongoing celebration of “100 Years of Florida High School Football,” is pleased to announce the Teams of the Century.

The Teams of the Century are the top teams, regardless of classification, in each decade as selected by a panel of high school sports experts.

The panel also selected the 1996 Union County High School Tigers of Lake Butler as the Small School Team of the Century. In the middle of what would become a 52-game winning streak (second longest in state history), the Tigers posted nine shutouts, which included the first three rounds of the playoffs. Coached by Robbie Pruitt, Union County defeated Frostproof, 67-30, in the FHSAA Finals to win their third straight Class 3A state championship.

The FHSAA will honor these 10 teams Saturday night at halftime of the Class 6A state championship game in Orlando. During the ceremony, one of these teams will be named the most outstanding Team of the Century.

“The panel originally discussed selecting a top 10 teams of the century,” said FHSAA Associate Executive Director Jack Watford. “But how do you make that determination? If you look at pure athletic skill, there is no way the teams of the distant past would even have a chance at this honor.

“So, the panel agreed to select one outstanding team from each decade, as well as a small school team of the century, and then select from that list of 10 schools the one team that will be honored as the most outstanding of the past 100 years.”

Here are the Teams of the Century by decade.

The Early Years (1907-1920s). The 1921 Duval High School Tigers of Jacksonville were 8-0 and became the first Florida team ever to be declared national champions by any organization (National Sports News Service). They whipped Dayton Steele of Ohio, which was regarded as the top team in the Midwest, 21-0, and then crushed Gainesville High School 56-0 in what was labeled a state championship game. Duval outscored opponents 366-3, allowing only Charleston (S.C.) High to score on a single field goal. Duval also won games 44-0 over Moultrie (Ga.) High, 34-0 over Montgomery (Ala.) Sidney Lanier, 77-0 over Lake City High and 74-0 over Hillsborough High.

The 1930s. The 1934 Leesburg High School Yellow Jackets, coached by Ray Hayes, were easily the most dominant team of their era. Cruising to a perfect 10-0 record, Leesburg posted seven shutouts and outscored its opponents by an impressive 344-20, the likes of which included established programs such as Palatka, Suwannee (Live Oak), Mainland (Daytona Beach), Orlando and Ocala.

The 1940s. The 1942 Miami High Stingarees, coached by Lyles Alley, were too much to handle for Florida teams of this era, outscoring opponents 305-73. The 9-0 Stingarees beat six out-of-state opponents, including Georgia state champion Boys High of Atlanta 31-20 and North Carolina state champion Asheville, 13-7, and were declared national champions by National Sports News Service.

The 1950s. The 1958 Matthew Gilbert High School Panthers of Jacksonville were so talented that future Olympian Bob Hayes played that year as a backup junior running back. Coach by Earl Kitchings, the Panthers finished 12-0, winning the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Association black school state championship with a 14-7 victory over Dillard (Fort Lauderdale) before more than 11,000 spectators.

The 1960s. Called the best team he ever coached by the legendary Nick Kotys, the 1967 Coral Gables High School Cavaliers shut out nine of 13 opponents by a composite score of 410-26. Coral Gables defeated Wolfson (Jacksonville), 21-7, in the FHSAA Class 2A Finals, after blanking McArthur (Hollywood) 36-0 and Robinson (Tampa) 55-0 in the first and second rounds. Finishing the season 13-0, the ’67 Cavaliers were the second of three Coral Gables teams crowned national champions during the 1960s.

The 1970s. Finishing 13-0 and Class 4A state champions, the high-powered 1972 Merritt Island High School Mustangs, coached by Eddie Feely, scored 519 points for a 39.9 point-per-game average, and ran up more than 5,000 yards in total offense. They beat Leon (Tallahassee) 40-21 in the state championship game.

The 1980s. Declared national champions by USA Today, the 1988 Pine Forest High School Eagles of Pensacola, coached by Carl Madison, finished the season 13-0 and won the Class 5A state title (their second straight) with a 50-27 victory over Riverview (Sarasota). The Eagles defeated its playoff opponents that year by an average of 35.5 points per game. Said Madison of the team he called his greatest: “We could score.”

The 1990s. The 1993 Miami Southridge High School Spartans, coached by Don Soldinger, cruised to the Class 5A state championship with a 69-36 rout of Manatee (Bradenton) in the FHSAA Finals. The 15-0 Spartans had a high-powered offense featuring future 1996 Heisman Trophy finalist Troy Davis and a defense led by USA Today Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Lamont Green.

The 2000s. The 2005 Lakeland High School Dreadnaughts, coached by Bill Castle, were 15-0, Class 5A state champions and USA Today national champions, and outscored their opponents 629-93. Lakeland’s closest regular season game was a 31-14 victory over Winter Haven. Its only close playoff game was a 28-21 state semifinal victory over Niceville. The Dreadnaughts defeated unbeaten St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) 39-10 in the state championship game.

About the FHSAA
The Florida High School Athletic Association is the governing body for interscholastic athletic competition in Florida. It has a membership of more than 750 middle, junior and senior high schools.