kevin-petit-homme-and-john-miller_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Words on the back of the T-shirts read:  “Rockets.  All we do is win, win, win.  No matter what.”  And on the front:  “Miami Central 2010 FHSAA 6A Champions.

The obvious story was told on the T-shirts worn by many who  attended a series of events celebrating the first State Class 6A football championship in the 51-year history of Miami Central High School, 1781 NW 95th St., in unincorporated Northcentral Miami-Dade County.

Sure.  Winning a football championship is quite an accomplishment.  But there is more than that here.  The people and events on this occasion confirmed as much.

Saturday, as Miami Central Army JROTC Instructors Major Charles Council and Master Sergeant Andre DeBose posted their 12-member honor guard to lead the parade of 49 entries, there was a potpourri of storylines.

“We’ve got to support them.  These are our kids.  They look for us to support them.  If we don’t support them, then who will?” said Miami-Dade County Public Schools Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.

She rode in the parade, as did School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Deputy Superintendent Freddie Woodson, Assistant Superintendent Nikoli Vitti and Region Administrator Martha Montiel.

Support was the message delivered by the presence of each parade entry that moved along to tunes played by the St. Thomas University marching band in front and the Miami Central High School marching band, showcased at the end.

They went south on Northwest 17th Avenue from 95th to 87th streets, then west  to Northwest 22nd Avenue, north to 95th Street and east back to the school for the other activities.

Friday, Miami Central  High School Activities Director Bessie M. LeGrant, who was honored for her 37 years at the school when the Media Center was given her name, pondered the school’s accomplishment.

“I don’t consider them down years,” she said, referring to the championship drought of previous years. “We’re talking about student-athletes.  We have to consider their feelings even though they didn’t win the trophy.  Having it is fantastic.”

The Rockets defeated Orlando Dr. Phillips 42-27 in the championship game played in December in Orlando.

LeGrant noted that while this is the school’s first football championship, the Rockets have won multiple state championships in boys and girls track and field and a boys basketball championship.

In fact, the backdrop for the post parade celebration was the John Rolle Track and Field Complex. 

Rolle coached the Rockets to state championships in boys and girls track and field.  He retired several years ago after more than 25 years as an educator and coach at Miami Central.

One disappointing note was struck by Vanessa Page who had planned to hand out free food at the event.

“We were going to provide free food and entertainment for the people,” said Page, who along with her son James, a 2001 graduate of Miami Central, owns Rockets Grill and Wings across the street from the school.  “They said it was a conflict because they had vendors to help raise money for their rings.  They told me I could do this at a later date.”

Page, at the urging of close friend and associate Daniel Clackley, a 1978 graduate of Miami Central, who also coached there, came up with the idea.  It was a follow-up on the season when Rockets Grill and Wings provided the pre-game meal for the Rockets at four regular season games.

“I can’t explain how it feels,” said Clackley, when asked his thoughts on the Rockets winning their first championship.  “It’s like we’ve accomplished something we’ve been trying to accomplish for decades.  It’s real special.”

William “D.C.” Clark, a 1974 graduate of Miami Central and president of the school’s alumni association, knows first-hand the significance of the victory.

Clark was a junior on the first Rockets team that made the playoffs.  It was the 1972-73 school year when the Rockets compiled a 9-1 regular season record behind All Dade running back Elvis Peacock, who went on to an outstanding career with the Oklahoma University Sooners and became a first draft choice of the then Los Angeles Rams.

“We were the first team to make the playoffs,” he said. “We lost to eventual state champions Hollywood Hills, 31-6, in the state semi-finals. Last year we lost to eventual state champions Miramar in the semi-finals.

“Believe it or not, when we lost to Miramar last year, it was like an omen.  It was like God said, ‘You’ve got to humble yourselves.’  Now, it’s like being a proud father.”

Clark noted that Miami Central was making strides in academics, as well, at a time when the school was threatened with closure over failing report cards.

“We got a C on the FCAT for the first time in eight years when we received either a D or F.  The C and winning a state championship are a culmination of all the struggles we’ve been through.  We’re finally coming together,” Clark said.

The turnaround began three years ago in the classrooms and on the field when Doug Rodriquez was appointed principal.
Telly Lockette was hired as head football coach.  Rodriquez left the school last year for employment in the private sector. Rennina Turner, an assistant principal under Rodriquez, was appointed to replace him.

Following Miami Central’s state  semi-finals win against Weston Cypress Bay, Turner expressed excitement over news of the C grade and said at the time,  “A state championship would be icing on the cake.”

The championship came and her cake got its icing.

“It’s wonderful,” Turner said. “It has rewards, based on what you see here today.”

For Lockette, it is vindication for having been fired from his offensive coordinator’s position at Miami Northwestern after the 2006 season over a sex scandal involving a former Bulls football player.

Lockette was not on the staff assigned to the school when the scandal broke.  But he was fired.  He landed the head coaching job at Miami Central a year later and coached the Rockets to the championship.

“Winning a championship helps kids in middle school decide where they want to go to high school,” Lockette said.  “You have to understand the dynamics of kids coming out of middle school.  They want to be with winners.  Being winners helps minority kids get to college.”

JAMES FORBES/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. CHAMPIONS: Miami Central High School football players Kevin Petit-Homme, left, and John Miller were among those honored for winning a state championship. The school hosted a victory celebration on Saturday to honor the team for bringing home the state championship.