The students at Bartow High School still have a few more weeks to go before they can start thinking about their annual homecoming, but there will still be a homecoming of sorts Friday night. Members of the Class of 1978, who were part of a state championship football team, along with the underclassmen who were also on the team, will be gathering for a special celebration and introduction of the team at halftime during the Lake Region-Bartow game Friday.
Darrell Hazelton and Bill Patterson have been spearheading the effort to reunite the team, commemorating the 35th year since the occurance. The team was believed to be the first Polk County team to have an undefeated season en route to a state title.
“Ten of us went on to college,” said Hazelton. “Our running back went on to the University of Florida. Our biggest player weighed 215 pounds and we had a pulling guard who was 150 pounds. We were quick. Coach Conrad kept us in the weight room and Coach Quinn kept pushing us.”
The magical season started with a 12-7 win over Mulberry. A district game with Sebring brought a 19-8 victory. The Fort Meade game was (naturally) one of the best contests with the Jackets prevailing 20-14. Palmetto fell to Bartow, 25-12, before another close game, a district contest, saw a 6-0 win over Haines City. Bartow racked up 31 points in beating Tampa Bay Tech, 31-20. Lake Wales fell by a 15-9 score with Tarpon Springs the next victim, 22-13. A shutout win (14-0) over Auburndale clinched the division and set up the regular season finale as Bartow crushed Clay County, 57-8.
As district champions in the 3A class, Bartow’s opponents would be other district champs throughout the state. Dade City/Pasco proved little competition in a 39-8 Bartow rout. The next step was a shutout of St. Petersburg Catholic, 35-0. Delray Beach Atlantic put up more of a fight in the semi-finals before falling 21-15.
The three wins set the stage for the state championship game against Perry-Taylor County. Bartow’s three previous wins had come on the home field as they had earned that advantage. Before 1989, the championship games were played on a competitor’s field, not a neutral site like the modern tournaments. This championship would be played in Bartow.
The FHSAA records indicate the crowd was 4,581 people (which, for comparison was a bigger crowd than last year’s 3,998 for the 7A title game at the Citrus Bowl). The game was a nail-biter, the kind you would expect for a state championship. When it was all said and done, the scoreboard showed Bartow on top by 7-0. The best way to get the details of the game will be to speak to those who played in it.
Many of the former players have stayed in the state of Florida, but previous commitments may prevent them from enjoying the Friday ceremony. Hazelton expects to have most of the starting lineup on hand to enjoy the special moment. Some of the players had been involved in state tournaments with other sports. Bartow, under coach J.J. Corbett, won the 1977 state title in track. The boys basketball team had been a regular visitor to the state tournament, winning the state in 1975 (The team would lose the state finals in 1979 with some of the under classmen from the 1977 championship squad involved).
When Bartow won the state title in 1977, it was the first Polk County team to claim a title on its home field. With the 1985 championship, Bartow became the only Polk County team to win two state championships on their home field. Haines City (1973) and Frostproof (1974) had won state championships, but secured their victory as visitors.
The community is invited to celebrate the Jackets of the Class of 1978 as well as today’s football team. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. with the celebration planned at halftime.