Part 5: Student Driver
When Wolfgang fled Lake Weir, to return to the football program at Vanguard High School, he was surely disappointed that this also meant stepping back down to assistant coach. But it would be a chance to restore his reputation.
And there had been better news for 32-year-old Wolfgang, in his personal life. Marriage records show that on April 14, 1979, he married 22-year-old Kathleen Audrey Crace.
Kathy was the daughter of a doctor in the Ocala area, according to Wolfgang’s 2012 deposition. It was her 2nd marriage; the last one ended in divorce on January 6, 1978. That would have been right around the time when Halbig was originally working at Vanguard, before any of the Hurricanes unpleasantness. (Eventually she would work in education, like Wolfgang, but I don’t know if she was already doing that in 1979. She was probably still in college.)
Their marriage took place just three months after Wolfgang was fired as head coach, when he would have been working at Lake Weir Middle School.
In December of that year, the newlywed Halbigs closed the purchase of their first home, in the Tall Pines division of Ocala, just up the street from Vanguard High.
It was where they were going to start a family; Kathleen was already pregnant with their first child, and in May of 1980, she gave birth to a son, Erik Halbig. And November of 1981 would see the arrival of a second Halbig son, Karl.
The Vanguard High School Conspiracy
Wolfgang arrived back at Vanguard ready to coach football. But by the time the season came around, there was only more frustration awaiting him. According to Wolf’s 2012 deposition, it was the principal at Vanguard, Henry Lambert, who broke the news: Wolfgang wasn’t going to be on the coaching staff, after all. Lambert told the spurned athletics coach, “I’m sorry Wolfgang, but they took it out of my hands.”
Wolf was furious, and he displayed the same “fire” as when he lashed out at his Lake Weir superiors after that downfall: this time, Wolf went straight to the district’s superintendent, and “questioned” him as to “why he would do” such a thing.
30 years later, still stinging from the confrontation, Wolf says in his deposition, “the answer is ‘None of your business.’ And he thought since he appointed the new head football coach, that it would be best for me not to be there.”
[Side note: In the deposition, Wolfgang appears to get confused on this point. He thinks he was moved to a different school after this, but he is mixing up his exit from Lake Weir High, when he was fired and moved to Lake Weir Middle School, with him losing an assistant coaching job at Vanguard the following year, which resulted in him not being on the coaching staff at all — presumably, because of his blowup at the district superintendent. Lake Weir and Vanguard are in the same district (Marion), so this superintendent surely already knew Wolfgang from his disastrous year coaching the Hurricanes, which is the more likely explanation for putting the kybosh on any coaching role.]
Anyway. It was another conspiracy.
Wolfgang didn’t leave Vanguard after the rug was pulled out from under him, despite his memory from 2012. He stayed on as a teacher, making no use of his athletics experience at all.
On the other hand, his brief experience with the highway patrol would come in handy, at least: Wolfgang was going to be Vanguard’s new drivers education teacher.
It was probably in the course of teaching these drivers-ed classes when he first started dropping references to his state patrol days into his speech patterns, as well as coming up with folksy catchphrases — “let me put my state patrolman hat on” — that he’d rely on for decades, in the various sales pitches and conspiracy theories to come, all of which would incorporate his persona into the sale.
This becomes apparent within one year of him starting as a drivers ed teacher. An article from the October 27 edition of the Ocala Star Banner documents how Wolfgang “has embarked on a crusade” to restore a law that once made drivers education mandatory for 16-year-olds to get a license, until Governor Bob Graham succeeded in getting the law repealed a few years before.
The [Governor’s] argument was that driver education served no useful purpose, that there were no statistics to show that it was instrumental in preventing any accidents or saving any lives.
Halbig doesn’t buy that argument. He told to Ocala Rotary Club last week that there are no statistics because nobody ever asks people involved in accidents if they ever had driver education.
“Who keeps statistics on the number of accidents that never happened because some driver drew on his knowledge of defensive driving to avoid a collision?” he asked. […] His experience as a highway patrolman has shown him first hand the death and destruction that takes place on our highways.
The story notes that Halbig was, with the support of his supervisor from Vanguard, “seeking help from individuals and civic organizations in promoting the return of mandatory driver education.”
The same reporter, David Cook, documents in a follow-up column in March 1981 that “Wolfgang has reason for a small celebration,” because he had managed to succeed in getting a bill before the state legislature, one that (if passed) would reinstate the drivers-ed requirement.
But the column also noted that “the introduction of a bill doesn’t mean success,” and that this one still had only a very long shot at making it.
Wolfgang himself knew this.
Halbig is fully aware that the biggest battle is yet to come and that many minds must be changed in the Legislature if success is to be achieved. Halbig is elated but gearing up for the major battles that lie ahead. He’s aware, too, that even if this bill (or one like it) is enacted by the Legislature, there is still the job of convincing Governor Graham that it ought not to be vetoed.
[Side note: I couldn’t find anything saying whether the bill passed or failed, which almost certainly means it failed. Judging by Florida’s posted statutes (Title XXIII chapter 322) it definitely isn’t current law; drivers must take a “traffic law and substance abuse education course,” but its only 4 hours and can be taken online.]
Anyway, it didn’t matter that his stated goal was hopeless. He was excited by the process. It was, in a sense, performative; it allowed him a chance to sell himself to more people than could hear him within the walls of his school, or in the sports pages. Halbig liked having access to an audience.
Likely, the same can be said for his announcement, on March 25, 1982, that he would be joining the list of names campaigning for a seat on the Marion County School Board. He was listed as a Democrat on the primary ballot, and was vying for the District 5 seat, held by incumbent Lamar Luffman.
There’s only one news report on Wolfgang’s campaigning, from the Star-Banner of August 26 1982. It was a political forum attended by Halbig, Luffman, and the other two primary candidates, and it was held at a funeral home in front of an audience of 125. The topic of discussion was “the performance of black students on standardized tests and improving the quality of education.”
When it was Wolfgang’s turn to speak, he deployed another section from his biography-turned-sales-pitch; he had once been a student whom the local school board had failed to teach proper English. Now, he was a teacher, and “it’s time to put a teacher in there who knows the needs of [local students.]”
Luffman was re-elected easily. Wolfgang didn’t even pass the first primary. But the important thing was that he campaigned in an election, for the first time.
The race was over by January of 1983, but Wolfgang continued to hone his pitch. He had heard that state legislators representing the Ocala area would be at City Hall, to hear the public’s opinions on what the “important issues to be discussed during the upcoming legislative session should be.” Wolfgang attended, waiting in line alongside people who wanted to change the state song, or raise the drinking age. Wolfgang, of course, told the representatives to “support drivers education programs in schools,” and talked about his experience as a state trooper. He advocated for “more strict fines for people who violate the law,” apparently as a means of funding the courses, because “when school boards look for places to cut budgets, drivers education programs are the first to be considered.”
Third Try’s a Charm
It was one of his last performances in Marion County. He’d moved up north from the Avon Park area three years before, with the hope of reviving his football coaching career, only to see the coaching offer turn to ash. But in early 1983, he decided to give the coaching dream a third try. And he found an opening. A special one, too: Sebring High School, the same school that had led to his getting fired from his the Hurricanes when he reached out about working there, instead, now really was hiring him as their head football coach.
Wolfgang was optimistic about the move.
I’ve been out of coaching two years and I figured it was time to get back into it… I feel like I’m good at motivating people — getting people to support the program… I hate to leave Marion County. I’ve met a lot of nice people here. But this is a great opportunity. It’s just time to move on.
For the first few months, Wolf would make the two-hours-plus commute, back and forth from Ocala to Sebring; the Halbigs would make the permanent move in June, before the new school year. But he really did have the job. And he was determined to get it right this time. Wolfgang was coming home.
(Continued in Part 6: The Sebring High Conspiracy)
Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.