Players from the Fort Pierce Central 1971 championship season hold the banner and the hardware that they won on their way to eight different championships,
including conference, district, regional and state titles, 50 years ago. They, along with the players from the FPC 1970 state runners-up team, were
recognized during the halftime of the Fort Pierce Central-Vero Beach football game in October. Former Assistant Coach Phil Farinella, standing to the right
of the banner, came from Winter Haven to join his former players as they were honored.
would combine to make one large integrated one with a lot of
Triplett turned Dan McCarty around immediately. The Eagles
had been 3-7 in 1968 and in Triplett’s first year were 7-3, including
the first victory in a decade over archrival Vero Beach.
In its last season in 1969, the Lincoln Park Academy Greyhounds
went 3-6, coached by future St. Lucie County Commissioner
Havert L. Fenn.
To a man, each of the players holds Triplett in high regard.
He knew how to lead, they all said, and he knew how and
when to deploy his best players. There is a reason he won
two state titles in his native Mississippi, one 15 years before
the 1971 Cobras state champions team, and one 15 years after.
He died in 2001, 15 years after his last state title.
From the start, there was racial tension at Fort Pierce Central.
Most confrontations were minor, but the tensions were
always present, sometimes below the surface, sometimes not
Wonder Monds, All-State in 1970 and later All-America
at the University of Nebraska, said even from the field he
could tell that the home crowds at Lawnwood Stadium
“After the first two or three games, the whites and the
Blacks in the crowd got a lot more comfortable with each
other,” Monds said. “We were winning, and there’s nothing
like a winning team to pull people together.”
Hank Melton, a sophomore running back on the 1971
team, also noticed the tension. Melton later played at the
University of Nevada-Las Vegas where he became a professor
of hotel administration.
“It wasn’t deliberate, but there was a white section and a
black section,” Melton said. “We were winning and creating
excitement. Eventually, what happened was the students
started to sit mixed-race, and you gradually saw the parents
The mix of races on the first two Cobra teams was about 75
percent Blacks and 25 percent whites.
By February 1971, racial tensions at Fort Pierce Central
boiled over, and campus unrest was pronounced for more
than a week. On the days in which multiple fistfights broke
out, Triplett had football players steer clear of trouble by going
to the gym, and used players to fetch players who didn’t
report right away.
More than a week after the first disruptions, several
hundred students refused to go to class, and 32 of them,
mostly Blacks, were arrested as police, who by then were
stationed every day on campus, used tear gas to disperse the
crowd. Again, no one was seriously hurt. There were rumors
of full-scale riots at Central, but those never happened.
David Sowerby, the placekicker on the 1971 team who is
credited with kicks that salvaged victory in two close games,
is an attorney in St. Lucie County. He says an announcement
over the school’s intercom system helped calm matters.
“The principal John Perdue made an announcement that
if this unrest continued, he would cancel the next football
season,” Sowerby said. “Everybody loved the football games.
After that, things calmed down.”
Thus, the students of Fort Pierce Central gave the Cobras
a huge win seven months before the championship season