Broward County had an unusual distinction this high school football season. Two of its elite programs won state championships in the larger school categories. St. Thomas Aquinas won its 8th state title in the 7A category. American Heritage School won its second straight 5A championship. Both schools had a fairly easy time of it. St. Thomas tore through most of its season, winning most games with a running clock, also known as the mercy rule, when a team gets so far ahead that they dispense with the usual stoppages for first downs, incomplete passes, out of bounds, etc. Its star players, and they were loaded with them, often sat out the second half of games. It won the championship game, 31-0. American Heritage too overwhelmed most opponents in its championship run. It won the state title 38-0.
The season was unusual for other reasons. Both St. Thomas and American Heritage had outstanding players who transferred from University School. University had won a state championship two years ago, but when its coach left for a job at Florida Atlantic the program virtually collapsed. University went 3-8 this year. It was also the year that the excesses of college football spread to a local high school. Miramar High, which had built a powerhouse program, was caught paying players.
Many thought St. Thomas had its best team ever, and yet it was not undefeated. It was handled early in the season by Don Bosco Prep of North Jersey, a traditional powerhouse. The score was an embarrassing 24-7, made more painful because the game was played at West Point on national TV. St. Thomas just did not play its game. It gave away two early touchdowns and never found its groove. Reliable players dropped passes in key situations, and its star running back, Jordan Scarlett (a University School transfer) got past the line of scrimmage only once, and turned it into a long run.
At the time it was thought Don Bosco was as good a team as it looked that day. It had already destroyed the defending Pennsylvania state champion, Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep, 35-7. And yet Don Bosco went on to a mediocre season, 7-4. Whereas the Prep, as everybody in Philadelphia calls St. Joseph's, last weekend won its second straight Pennsylvania large school championship. What must former Pennsylvanians Dan Marino, John Cappelletti and Joe Namath be thinking?
Maybe they are thinking, as many are, that high school sports are out of control, with Florida teams playing teams from New Jersey and California, often on national TV, with polls deciding national champions, with Florida having eight divisions in football (and an absurd eight state champs), with players transferring left and right, with teenagers getting paid to play, with a few schools in each area attracting all the top talent.
And maybe we should all be thinking back to a gentler age, say 1960, when St. Thomas Aquinas was not a football powerhouse. Its team at the time was called Central Catholic and was not attracting players transferring for a higher profile program. In fact, the word “program” was rarely used on the high school level. The team went 4-4, but what its players did later is hard to match on any level. Brian Piccolo (pictured above) went on to lead the country in rushing at Wake Forest, and then his early death while playing for the Chicago Bears inspired the film “Brian’s Song” and made him a legend. The quarterback, Bill Zloch, went on to quarterback at Notre Dame and is a long-time and highly respected U.S. District Judge. A halfback, Dr. Dan Arnold, became a leading children’s dentist. The fullback, John Graham, had a successful career in sales and management with Nabisco, the baking company giant, and later operated a food brokerage business.
In those days, nobody got recruited, much less paid. Ah, nostalgia.