WILDWOOD – If you were planning on attending a Wildwood varsity football contest this fall, you will have to consider other options.
In a letter released by the Wildwood Football Staff, there were several major consideration points taken in considering fielding a varsity football program for the 2015-2016 season under head coaches Casey Strickland and Ryan Harrison. As such, the school plans only to field a junior varsity team for the upcoming season.
Citing the fact of only having four upperclassmen on the roster that includes three seniors and one junior with two of those four players having not played football as of yet and having a talent pool of freshmen and sophomores that are inexperienced at this time, the Wildwood Middle High School Athletic Department felt it was in the best interest to suspended the varsity program for the upcoming season.
All of this comes on the heels for Wildwood of having five different head coaches in as just as many seasons as well having faced declining enrollment numbers that have left the team facing a situation not seen in the many years of Wildwood football
Wildwood which was assigned back in January to a larger District 1A-8, will now leave the other five district opponents including Pahokee, Pierson Taylor, Fort Meade, Frostproof and Crescent City having to find a replacement game. Also five non-district opponents are also facing the position of having to find a new game late or at least consider playing a 9-game varsity schedule for the upcoming season.
However, there is a light at the end of this situation for Wildwood. The plan is to sprinkle in some limited varsity competition in the 2016-2017 season with the hopes of Wildwood fully returning to varsity play for the 2017-2018 school year. There was no mention if the would return to district play at that particular time.
Some Wildwood Glory
Wildwood which has appeared in four state championship games in school history, claiming two of those titles had long been consistent as one of the top programs in the state for many years.
According to Florida high school football historian, Richard Burton, the Wildcats which won their first state championship in 1964 against Columbia High in Class A, was very much the underdog team when they faced the Tigers at Florida Field on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville. Burton said that Van McKenzie, who was the editor of Ocala Star-Banner at the time and later at The National, called the upset by Wildwood over Columbia one of the biggest events he ever covered. The the team that year was coached by the legendary Byrd Whigham who also went on to win a state championship at Melbourne two years later in 1966.
Wildwood’s second title came under legendary head coach Dub Palmer in 1970 who defeated Port St. Joe for the Class B state championship. What it is very ironic here about this, is that Palmer’s son, John Palmer is the current head coach at Port St. Joe where he has won two state championship with the Tiger Sharks in 2005 and just this past season.
Also according to Burton, Wildwood won at least 8 games per year from 1980 to 1986 and played for state championship in 1984 and 1985 falling to Port St. Joe and Walton respectively in that stretch.
Wildwood is noted for having such players including offensive linemen Ellis Johnson who was a first-round NFL draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1995; WR Ron Dixon who was a third-round NFL draft pick by the New York Giants in 2003 among many other players that have come through the halls of Wildwood Middle High School.