Part 6: The Sebring High Conspiracy
The Blue Streaks
OK spoiler, first thing: Wolfgang’s coaching tenure at Sebring High is not as brief, nor as disastrous as his first head-coach gig was, back with the Lake Weir Hurricanes (see Part 4). But it is… I dunno, just… weirder. Things start to get weird. And he whines a lot.
For starters, just as Wolfgang is rolling into town, back to his old high-school stomping grounds of Highland County, he gives one of his trademark sports-pages interviews to the Tampa Tribune. We get the usual Wolfgang Halbig origin story, conveyed in on a phone interview he had with reporter Frank Ruiz; he writes that Wolfgang says he emigrated at age 13 (so only off by one year, this time).
But that’s just the start of the discrepancies. It simply doesn’t sound like Wolfgang was honest in his conversation with this reporter. Almost every detail about his life is off.
- “Halbig had to turn down a scholarship to the University of Florida because of his language problems.” (Not true, he couldn’t attend because he wasn’t registered for the draft. It had nothing to do with his English.)
- “But he made his way through two years at Coffeyville Junior College..” (He only attended one year at Coffeyville, then went into the Air Force.)
- “And also was defensive coordinator in ‘78-‘80 at Vanguard High before he left coaching to seek a master’s degree.” (No, he was defensive coordinator at Vanguard in 1977-1978, left to coach the Lake Weir Hurricanes for the 78 season, “left coaching” because he got fired and returned to Vanguard to be assistant coach in 1979 but then the offer was rescinded. He’s been a drivers ed teacher ever since.)
About the master’s degree, perhaps the reporter misinterpreted something. Because starting around this time, Wolfgang did begin working on his master’s degree, from Nova University.
(Further confirmation of this timeframe is found in a Tribune article from June of that year, which notes that Halbig decided to teach civics instead of P.E., so that the school could hire more assistant coaches, “even though it means he’ll have to acquire more college credits next year.”)
On his 2012 resume, Wolfgang lists his masters program as focusing on “Administration and Supervision.” And this was surely true, as it hints toward his long-term plans. He had been rebuffed by the voters when he ran for the school board back in Marion County, so now this would be an alternative route to a position of power in the school system: working in the school’s administration. Principal Halbig could be the guy who does the hiring and firing of a school’s coaches, rather than being on the receiving end of that power dynamic.
But that left him in a tight spot when it came to the Blue Streaks. As interested as he was in redeeming himself as a coach, the clock was ticking. This would be his last shot to rewrite his football legacy.
No Dumb Kids
By June of 1983, with the new school year and football season approaching, Wolfgang had been working on the team’s lineup for long enough to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the Blue Streaks. The June 4 edition of the Tampa Tribune detailed (via another interview with Frank Ruiz) some of his early plans:
Halbig doesn’t believe the Blue Streaks will be just a place for others to wipe their shoes anymore. There are changes taking place on the football program at Sebring. Halbig, behind them all, said it may take some time, he may not be popular, but he’s going to stick by the changes.
For one thing, don’t look for any “stars” at Sebring next season, Halbig said.
We’re not going to have any stars, and we’re not going to have any dumb kids, either,” the coach said.
Halbig’s new “system” includes attention by the players to practice and to academics.
On Coach Halbig’s watch, players for the Blue Streaks would have to show up for strength training at the school’s new weight room, three times a week over the summer (once Wolfgang actually got the weight room set up). They would also need to show up for pre-season practice in August. And, “If they don’t maintain good grades, they can count on paying $2 to watch football games next fall, Halbig said, because they won’t be on the field.” Even if they were the “star” of the team, they would be cut if they failed to meet these standards.
Not to say that any of this is a *bad* idea, necessarily… but the academic part is an awkward thing for Wolfgang, of all people, to apply as his expectation for high school athletes. After all (see Part 1: The Early Years), he was the star player at Avon Park, and that was the only reason he even graduated high school at all, according to his own 2012 testimony.
There is some context that explains this strange position, at least a bit. Florida’s legislature was considering the RAISE bill at the time, which would increase the minimum academic requirements for high school football teams. Up until that point in 1983, and going back to when Wolfgang was a player, the minimum GPA requirement was .67 — roughly, four D’s and 2 F’s. If the RAISE bill passed, it’d be a 1.5 minimum.
A couple days later, Wolfgang gave another interview to Frank Ruiz. This one focused entirely on the grade requirements controversy.
Wolfgang expressed dismay at the low bar for academics that football players had to clear. “Can you imagine any parent letting their son play with four Ds and two Fs? Can you imagine any coach letting a kid play with four Ds and two Fs and not being concerned about that?”
“We’re using kids,” Halbig continued. “The bottom line is, if it comes down to between me having a star running back and academics, I’m going to do everything possible to keep that kid eligible.” He went on to express his belief this mindset was “prevalent” among football coaches in the state.
Then, we get a strange quote from Wolfgang:
“Athletics has done a lot for me,” [Halbig] said. “but if somebody hadn’t preached academics to be, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Who could he have been referring to here? Wolfgang is the epitome of the jock who got by based on his football stats. Did a teacher or coach at Avon Park take young Wolfgang aside and urge him to focus on bumping up his GPA above .67… but not past 1.0? If so, isn’t that exactly the sort of person whom Wolfgang just called out, asking “can you imagine” someone so uncaring? Isn’t that Wolfgang being “used” by the sports system? Perhaps he is aware of that by 1983, and wants better for his players. That’s the most charitable interpretation I can think of. Still, it’s weird that he’s so determined to prevent anyone else from following the path he took.
When the RAISE act passes in July of 1983, Halbig was quoted again. “I just think it’s sad that educators had to wait until the legislature did something instead of acting on it themselves,” he would tell the Tribune. But he expressed relief that the law was amended, so that it wouldn’t go into effect until January of the following year — and thus, the next football season. “At least three of our starters would have been gone,” he said. And he expressed hope for the long-term effects of the new law. “In most cases, if a kid can do well on the field, he can certainly do it in the class.”
The county jamboree took place at the end of August, where teams squared off as a sort of a preview of the coming football season. Observing the Blue Streaks, coach Halbig was pleased with his defensive line; the rest, he was concerned about. Especially when looking at some of the teams they’d be facing shortly, such as Lake Placid. “They have kids over there that really want to play, they’ve got such a good attitude,” he said of the school’s Green Dragons. “It scares me.” Confidence like that was exactly the quality he felt his team was still lacking, despite his efforts.
Friday Night Slights
Frank Ruiz published a profile on Halbig and the Blue Streaks a week before the opening game. He wrote that the team had become familiar with “The Halbig Smile,” and especially, “The Halbig Frown.”
On any given day you will see both. Halbig’s cheerful smile is contagious. It exudes confidence. Hopes are the team will catch it. A lack of confidence has been Sebring’s greatest pitfall. The Halbig Frown is typical of football coaches. It makes you wish you could hide in a helmet.
Halbig described Sebring as being “like the kid that everyone has pushed around for a long time. And now, Sebring is standing up for itself.” They were going to “play aggressive football — against anybody.”
Their first chance would be on September 9 1983, in an away game against the Clewiston Tigers. Halbig’s team would have its work cut out for them: the Tigers were the Class 2A co-champions, and were 13-0-1 the previous season.
The Blue Streaks lost 35-20. But reports in the Tampa Tribune said “signs are there that morale was not destroyed by the Clewiston foray. Only the score was bad.” Wolfgang told the reporter “We really learned a lot about our team at Clewiston. I really believed we could have been in that game. But we need to improve in certain areas.” They were set to face Charlotte High next, this time at Sebring’s opening home game, and Halbig believed a focus on improving their special teams play would be the key to victory.
Looking to rally support for his team, Wolfgang decided to attend a meeting of Sebring’s boosters club, for parents of players and folks who regularly attended games. He was prepared to announce something really special: that he was going to participate in a mudwrestling event at the local fair, squaring off against one of the female mudwrestlers to drum up publicity for the team.
That’s maybe a bit unusual, but at least it was a charity women’s mudwrestling event. Halbig could have raised some money to maintain the fairgrounds if he hadn’t canceled.
It actually seems that he started to lose confidence in the Blue Streaks before any of the players, despite his concerns about their morale, starting with when he found out that the local firemen’s association had backed out of fully stocking the newly expanded weight room at Sebring, leaving much of it empty space. Then, the booster’s club meeting had to be rescheduled: because when Wolfgang arrived, there were only five people in attendance.
“Why should I?,” he said as he canceled the bout. “We’re not getting the support we should from the people in this area.”
The Blue Streaks, meanwhile, went on to lose against the Charlotte Tarpons, not even scoring a point against their 22. Which can’t have helped the team’s morale, or local support. “Defensively, I thought we played a heck of a game,” Wolfgang said. “People can’t look at the scoreboard and judge Sebring. We have to look further down the road. The kids are going to get tired of losing and Sebring’s going to build something.”
They played the undefeated Hardee High on September 23rd, and lost.
Next, they went up against Lake Placid, the school Halbig said he was scared of after the jamboree. And it was the biggest disaster yet for the Blue Streaks, as Wolfgang himself caused a penalty for his team when he “stepped on the field during the game,” and then was even ejected from the game before it was over, when he lost his cool at some of the officials.
Wolfgang’s team lost 13-6. And this one was particularly dispiriting: Sebring and Lake Placid had been facing each other for 20 years, and this was the first time ever that Sebring lost in that match-up. Their record was now 0-4.
Game 5 came the following week, against Okeechobee High, another winless team. And finally, Sebring got a win, 12-7. Wolfgang’s first-ever victory as a head football coach, and he was elated. “A nice, sweet change,” he told the Tribune. “I’m so glad to get (a win) over with. We really needed it. We’ve been just a few plays away from winning in some of our games. I think we would’ve been in trouble if we would’ve gone 0-5.” It had finally boosted the team’s spirits, too. “This win really opened the door for us. We have a little confidence now.”
But there was to be no winning streak. They faced the DeSoto High Bulldogs the following week. Another shutout loss, 20-0. “I think I’m going to start going to church,” Wolfgang said afterward. “I’ve never seen such a game for things go so much against you. I just don’t understand it. We gave another one away.” Indeed, the paper described it as a “fumble-filled” game, in front of a sparse crowd.
The Blue Streaks continued losing games. Then, early in November, Halbig got some really distressing news; his starting running back would be out for the rest of the season — maybe for good — after he lost two fingers in an unfortunate shop class run-in with an electrical saw. And he was the team’s leading ball carrier.
Wolfgang was considerate in some of his comments about the incident to reporter Frank Ruiz. “I know that bill for surgery is really going to be expensive. It’s right now, at a time like this, that he’s going to really need the support of the people in the community.” The coach encouraged donations from the community, and offered to collect them himself. But then he makes a bizarre comment: “It would be a nice gesture and I think it would really help him overcome any mental problems that might come from such an accident.” Which is just…. a weird thing to say. I don’t even know what to make of that.
The Blue Streaks went up against the Fort Mead next. And at halftime, they were even ahead, 19-14. But after a series of blunders, including many penalties and a baffling decision from Halbig to punt on a 2nd down, the game ended in another defeat for the Blue Streaks, 20-19.
They went on to lose the remaining two games, ending the season with a 1-9 record. It was an improvement over the Hurricanes, at least. And, Wolfgang didn’t get fired immediately after! He was, officially, on board for another season. (Perhaps more relevant, he had another year to go on his master’s degree, before he could ascend into administration.)
That summer, Wolfgang gave another interview to the Tribune’s Frank Ruiz, going over a few other reasons he had hope for his second season at the helm. He’d just finished a “rebuilding” year, so next season, he could count on once-green players coming back as experienced veterans. And the firefighters had stepped up and brought in more weight room equipment. Wolfgang was “simply tickled” about it.
They had also set up a “feeder system” by working with the football program at the local middle school. Like the weight room, it was a long-term investment. “This is something that’s going to take time. But what we’re doing now is building a cycle.”
“The future of Sebring High,” Wolfgang said.
One day in August of 1984, Wolfgang suffered a back injury. According to what he says in his 2012 deposition, one day during pre-season practice, he was up in the bleachers at Sebring’s football field, supervising the Blue Streaks in their drills, when a storm rolled in.
Wolfgang says, in 2012, that as part of his recovery he took “a lot of medication…. muscle relaxers, a lot of pain medication.”
As far as the local press at the time it happened, well, there’s no mention of any storm, or a practice or bleachers or falling down rows of bleachers like a bad three stooges act, or any of that. He does sustain a back injury, according to the Tribune, but it’s attributed simply to a “pinched nerve” that triggered a “recurring” back injury. (There’s not been any note of Wolfgang suffering a back injury prior to this, but he did injure his kidneys twice, so, fine.)
Either way, Wolfgang is indeed in the hospital at this time, in traction, “sending instructions from the hospital bed via his assistants as regards the daily two-a-day practice sessions.” The season’s opening game was only two weeks away.
When he next appears at practice, six days later and “barking” from on the sidelines, he’s wearing a medical device to administer low-level electrical currents to reduce pain.
Still, there’s no mention of him falling down the bleachers. Instead he puts on a tough face, vowing not to get the recommended surgery for his condition while the season is going on. But he’s “not a martyr.”
Just another really strange anomaly that can best be explained as Wolfgang trying to manage his public image.
A few days ahead of the 1984 season’s jamboree, Halbig was more optimistic than ever. “These guys want to play football. I’m more excited than I was last year. We will not be 1-9 nor will we be 0-10 at the end of this season… Something is happening here. I think it’s good.”
Opening night came on September 7, 1984, against the Clewiston Tigers. Last year, the Tigers beat the Blue Streaks 35-20. This would be the rematch. “The house is not complete,” Wolfgang said of his team-building efforts. “But beating Clewiston tonight would add a lot to it.”
This game went even worse than last year, with the Blue Streaks losing 0-22. And the Tigers were actually embarrassed by their performance, if that’s any indication of Sebring’s. “We just played a very sloppy game,” the victorious coach of the Tigers said. “If Sebring had been able to execute a little better, we’d have been in trouble.”
The next game was against Charlotte High. The Blue Streaks lost 7-6, and notched six fumbles.
Game three would be against Hardee High, another winless team. “The first two games were like spring practice,” Wolfgang said. “But the game against Hardee is critical. This will tell us a lot.”
The Blue Streaks lost 33-6 against Hardee. Halbig said the reason was a breakdown in communication, with one of his defenders ignoring the calls from coaches, which “has led Halbig to make some drastic changes this week.” The Blue streak was now 0-3.
Game 4 would be against Lake Placid. The team Wolfgang expressed fear over last season, and who had broken a 20-year streak to defeat Sebring in that game (their only win that season). The rematch would see a return to the trend, with Sebring getting their first win of the season 12-6, and their first win in almost a full calendar year.
The fifth game of the season — the halfway point — would be against Okeechobee High. The single team the Blue Streak won against in the last season. So it doesn’t seem like it should have been giving Wolfgang much pressure.
But just two days before the game, on October 3rd, he complains that the next four of the Blue Streaks’ games would be against teams fresh off a week’s rest.
Then on the eve of that game, seemingly out of nowhere… Wolfgang threw in the towel.
His resignation from his coaching duties was reportedly due to “a general lack of support for athletics from the community and the school board,” and included “some words of anger and frustration from Halbig.” Wolfgang was going to finish out the season as coach, and would finish the school year as PE teacher. But after that, Wolfgang was quoted, “I’m going to find a coaching job. It may not be as a head coach. But coaching is not my hobby, it’s my livelihood. It’s what I do. Like other coaches, I teach football. It’s a lot different showing kids stuff on paper. What a good program needs is good coaches, people can teach the sport and inspire the program.”
As for why he was announcing his resignation mid-season, “Halbig said he could wait no longer,” and hoped that this move would “prompt the school board and some people from the community to take another look at the overall athletic program at Sebring and do something to add support for the kids — which is what sports is really about — rather than be split up in all kinds of criticism.”
A main complaint that Halbig had was one familiar from his Hurricanes tenure: interference with his assistant-coaching staff. The principal of Sebring High who hired Wolfgang two years previous, William Blanding, had passed away over the summer, and his replacement wasn’t following through on Blanding’s promises. “I was told we could hire two assistant coaches. But none of that has happened.”
“I’m very angry and bitter,” Halbig confirmed.
“What does this community want?,” he continued. “I don’t know of any other teacher who is held as accountable as we (coaches) are. But if I’m going to be held accountable for what we do on the field, then I think we should also have the support from the school and the community while we do it. And here, we don’t… Maybe by my quitting, somebody will get off their tail and make a move to get some coaches in here.”
Wolfgang called it “the worst situation I’ve ever worked under,” as a coach.
Sebring’s principal, Johnnie Freeland commented to the Tribune on Wolfgang’s resignation, “I don’t like it. I don’t like to see a person hurt like that.” He said he asked Halbig to put it off, but Wolfgang wouldn’t hear it. Freeland didn’t want to say more until “everything is official.”
The next day was the game against Okeechobee. (Must have been awkward.) The Blue Streaks lost 25-7. But they notched a win the following week, against DeSoto High, making this Wolfgang’s best season as head coach, a gig he’d already announced he was quitting. “This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been telling our kids all season,” Halbig said afterward. “When you’re down and people are counting you out. You never quit. Don’t give up. And they never did. They never quit.” Just kind of a strange thing for him to say at that juncture.
The Blue Streaks won another game, and then finished the season by beating Avon Park 14-12, leaving them with a 4-6 record; a big improvement over last year, and easily Wolfgang’s best record as head coach. Except he had already quit in a really public and bitter manner. (Their performance seemed to improve greatly after he announced he was leaving, actually.)
In December, the Tribune reported that Wolfgang “would like to stay” at Sebring, but he hadn’t heard anything. The school hadn’t found a replacement so far.
January saw only another non-update; The school hadn’t announced any replacements, but wouldn’t say Halbig was coming back, either.
A week later, Wolfgang flip-flopped again, and now vowed he would not be coming back to Sebring. “They (the school administration) have had more than a month to make a decision and they haven’t,” he told the Tribune for their January 12th edition. “That’s been one of Sebring’s problems for a long time — they can’t make decisions.”
Wolfgang went on, “I’m tired of people asking me what I’m going to do. So I want to tell everyone that I don’t want to coach football at Sebring and let them look for somebody else.”
The Tribune reported that there was something else behind Wolfgang’s sour attitude toward the school:
If Halbig sounds just a little miffed, it could have something to do with a recent teacher evaluation he received. The coach said he isn’t upset about anything. But he did say he didn’t like getting “a bad teaching evaluation just because I resigned as head coach during the middle of the season.”
Halbig said that schools are supposed to hire teachers, not coaches. Yet he said his evaluation as a physical education teacher reflected his decision to quit coaching.
Sebring High was orchestrating things behind the scenes to sabotage him, in other words. Probably it was Principal Freeland himself who called in the hit. It was a conspiracy. Again.
“In one sense, I should have never wanted the job back,” Wolfgang threw in.
But then! Bizarrely, he would flip-flop one more time in April, saying he was willing to stay at Sebring even as an assistant coach.
After all that ugliness, understandably, Sebring didn’t want anything to do with Wolfgang Halbig, and he never worked there again.
[Brief flash-forward to January 2009: Wolfgang Halbig is online, and reads an article about a coach from his high school days being inducted into a state coaching Hall of Fame. He leaves the following comment:
As a former Red Devil Baseball Player you make me truly proud. I also hoped that one day you would have a a chance to coach the Red Devils because it is in your Blood. I am just glad that the Firemans Association of Sebring doesn’t tell you how to coach. Congratulations to you, Judy and family. I will always remember your help. wolf
Yes, the local firefighters that stocked the Blue Streaks weight room in 1983 were also somehow involved in the grand conspiracy to trick Wolfgang into quitting his job there. And he’ll still be mad about it 26 years later.]
In an interview from 1985, Wolfgang said he considered two offers from schools in Ocala as his next move, which would put him back in the district he’d left two years ago; the coaching offer that never materialized (see Ch.5 Student Driver). But he ultimately opted to stay in Highland County for now, to be close with his mother, and so he accepted a defensive coordinator spot at Avon Park. His old alma mater.
An article notes that his portrait is still in the trophy case of the school, now 20 years later. He said it “didn’t make a difference” that he was stepping down to an assistant coaching role. “It was such a pleasure watching my mother playing with my kids (Erik and Karl) for two hours the other day. It made me think — family has to come first.”
Halbig wouldn’t last long at Avon Park, anyway. He finished his master’s degree (for reals this time) in 1986, and then relocated again, up north to Seminole County (about halfway to Marion County, where he was the drivers education teacher for two years). “Apparently his fortunes are elsewhere,” a school member from Highlands said. “I hate to lose him.” Another reporter said Wolfgang told him he was leaving “hopefully to one day become an administrator in Seminole County — his professional aim in life.“
Lake Brantley (as we may recall from the end of Part 2: Gridiron Daze) was the school where Halbig first coached when he got out of college in 1973, before resigning after just six months over “wardrobe” concerns. But whatever that was doesn’t seem to have been a problem anymore. Wolfgang was 41, and a married father now. His “bushing” days were probably over.
In his 2012 deposition, Halbig says he continued to coach football when he arrived at his new job in Lake Brantley High School. But that’s not true. He said so a Tribune article in August 1986: “I’ll be a teacher not a coach. What’s today? Aug 15 — the first day of high school football practice. And look, I’m not on a football field. It’s nice to be recognized for that.“
He would do some coaching of other sports at Lake Brantley, though, mostly with the girls soccer and volleyball teams. And he didn’t do badly, either. But as he said when he left Avon Park, his whole relocation to Seminole County had more to do with his long-game plan to become an administrator; Seminole must have seemed like the best opportunity to find such a role, now that he was done with his master’s.
It took about two years for such an opportunity to come up, during which the Halbigs took out a mortgage on a new home in the area.
Then, in April of 1989, the Tribune reports Halbig’s departure from Lake Brantley, to nearby Lyman High School: and his exit from coaching, to finally become an assistant principal. Now he had a whole other ladder to climb, one that offered him more power than coaching football ever had.
(Continued in Part 7: Principal Halbig and the Fake Bomb Detectors)
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.