Staver Field
was named in honor of Naples High Senior Peter Preble “Pete” Staver, who died  November 24, 1975.  He was injured in the 4th Quarter of the last varsity football game of the season against Key West.  He died 3 days later.  Here is the story as reported by staff writer Ron Martz of the St Petersburg Times on Sunday October 10, 1976.  The original article is on display in the trophy case at the Naples High gymnasium.



The night Pete Staver died

“A student, 17 years old, was injured in a football game on Nov.21, and died on Nov. 24.  His injury was a subdural hematoma”  1975 High School Fatality Report

Pete Staver was really 18 when he died, and most of Naples knew it because that night he slipped across the legal line from boyhood to manhood he marched right into Muldoon’s pizza parlor and demanded his free beer, as is the custom of those who come of age in this southwest Florida town.  No matter that Muldoon’s thought Pete was 18 for the better part of the previous year, he wanted his free beer.

They tell the story when they talk about Pete Staver in Naples because it shows how he could dance in and out of the good graces of a lot of people, never really making them angry, always leaving them shaking their heads about why this boy was always up to some mischief that never meant anybody any harm.

“That’s the way he was,” says his father, 54 year-old Preble Staver, at poolside of his comfortable northwest Naples home.  “It was something about his personality.  We first knew of it in first grade.  Here was this little red-headed freckle-faced, laughing, smiling boy – and he was the same way in high school – who had an attention span that long (holds fingers about an inch apart). He was everybody’s friend, a flirt, he made a fuss over all the girls and they loved it because they knew he meant no harm.”

Pete Staver was one of 16 high school football players to die in 1975.  He was that one out of every 100,000 participants who die playing football, one of 12 to die as a result of a brain injury One of five to die while trying to tackle a ball carrier.  But he was son, brother, friend and a young man in search of the good times that life holds for the young.

LESS THAN THREE MINUTES REMAINED in the last game of Pete Staver’s high school career.  Before the game he had thought it would probably be his last game ever because he knew he wasn’t really college football scholarship material. He was thinking that maybe when school was over in the spring he’d go hiking up the Appalachian trail, maybe all the way from Georgia to Maine, because he loved to hike, with only the sounds of nature and his own breathing within his hearing. So he wanted this last game to be special.


This last game against Key West would be special if Naples High won, because the team has suffered through back-to-back 1-9 football seasons, had endured the burden of overcrowded double sessions for five years and was just now beginning to feel and assert its own identity as a school and a football team.  A win against Key West would make it a 5-4 season, not bad after losing four of their first five games.

It was a warm night, in the 60’s that Nov. 21, 1975 for the Naples High Homecoming against Key West, far warmer than the previous weekend when cross-town rival Lely had been upset, tossing the whole city upside down with mixed emotions for the better part of a week.  Perhaps they were still feeling that flush of victory. Or, perhaps, it was the excitement of the first true Homecoming many of them could remember in a while, with a night filled with floats and giant mums and queens in their starched and pressed best.  Or perhaps it was both that enables Naples High to play a stronger Key West team to within three minutes of victory.

But Naples was in trouble.  The Eagles had not run back, or even touched, any of the Key West punts all night and now they were pinned back at their own 10-yard line by a 63 yard punt.  A couple of first downs would run out the clock, but on third down a fumble was recovered by Key West at the Naples seven.  Key West fumbles on its first play but Naples’ hands failed to find the ball before it rolled out of bounds at the three.  On second down a pass fell incomplete and it was third and three. When Key West came out of the huddle and lined up strong right, defensive tackle Brian Loewel looked to his left, where Pete Staver was playing defensive end. “They’re coming our way,” Brian panted through his plastic mouthpiece.  Pete gave him a thumbs-up sign, meaning he understood, the same thumbs-up he had given a photographer the night before as he and a couple of friends stood in front of the Homecoming bonfire.  Pete shifted slightly to the outside, knowing by the alignment they would probably sweep his way, or go off tackle.

Sidney Portier took the handoff and moved to his right.  As Pete Staver moved outside to contain him, Portier cut back inside.  Pete was blocked at the waist and as he was going down, lunged for Portier.  He went down in a pile.  Portier scored.  Pete got up from the pile, took a few steps, shook his head a couple of times, then collapsed.  Dr. Leslie Schultzel, the team physician, rushed onto the field, but by the time he got there, Pete was having convulsions.  An ambulance was at the game, and rushed him to Naples Community Hospital, but when he got there he was in a “deep and irreversible comatose state.  Clinically, he was dead when he reached the hospital,” said Dr. Francis Hussey, a Naples neurologist.
                            
FOR THREE DAYS the doctors maintained his body functions through medication and a respirator.  Teammates and classmates held a round-the-clock vigil at the hospital.  They worried and they prayed.  For many of them it was their first experience with death.  Head Coach Dick Pugh was at the hospital almost constantly for three days.

About 2 o’clock Saturday morning the doctors tried to relieve some of the pressure on Pete’s brain by drilling holes in his skull.  When the doctors found what appeared to be two shades of blood, indicating a possible previous injury, they went to the Staver's.  They knew of none, although
Pete had spoken briefly of a headache the previous week.  That was not uncommon for a football player, however. Then late Monday night, November 24, 1975, Peter Preble Staver, the youngest of five children of Preble and Isabell Staver, was dead at the age of 18.  Cause of death:  A sudden jolt that shook the brain and sheared open veins in the skull.  Dr. Hussey said there appeared to be no direct blow to the head, no bruises.  Pete’s helmet was unmarked, uncracked.

Key West Assistant Coach John Pierucki was one of the few people to look at the films of that game.  Naples High Coach Pugh cannot bring himself to look at them.

“It was no harder than bumping your head against a wall,” Pierucki said of the contact involving Pete.

“The accident happened the last few minutes of the game,” said Preble Staver.  “We don’t know why.  We don’t question it.  We had the best doctors in the world trying to help him and they called it a catastrophe.  Medically they said his brain stem was severed and he was dead, but his body functioned for three days.”
Naples is a pleasant, uncomplicated community, bleached white from the unpolluted Florida sun and still relatively uncluttered, containing none of the inconsistent excesses that mark larger cities.  Although it borders on the fastest growing county in the country, Naples is still small town America.  A lot of people knew Pete and the Staver's, who had come from Washington D.C. in 1968 when Preble Staver took a job as vice president in charge of marketing for Citizen’s National Bank.  The family had moved briefly to Sarasota in 1974, but decided to return to Naples.

“When I came home and told them we were going back to Naples, Pete goes: ‘Hot damn! Dad, I told you it was crazy to come up here in the first place.’”

Pete returned to Naples in time for spring football practice and almost quit over the discipline imposed by the new coaching staff.  When Dick Pugh arrived at Naples in the spring of 1975, after 24 years of coaching football, he found a school with little spirit and a team with even less.

“Naples was a pretty unique situation,” says Pugh.  “The school had just come off five years of double shifting when Lely got its new building.  Facilities were down,. Morale of the school was down and our concern was to rebuild things.  What we attempted to project was optimism.  Everybody was cynical.  I asked everybody to be positive.

“PETE AND I never always hit it off peachy-keen.  Pete didn't always agree with me on these self-discipline sort of things.  He was a kind of free spirit but we could talk about our differences.  In August, Pete again considered leaving the team, but he talked it out with his father and with Pugh and decided to stay for his senior year.

“From that point on we got close,” said Pugh.  “We had our head butting session and then we saw eye-to-eye.  From that point on he emerged as one of the team leaders.  Football was very important to him, very important.  I don’t know how I’m going to react to this as time goes on.”

Although Pugh was able to attract on 26 players for the varsity out of a student body of 1200, he took what he had and without a lot of brow-beating, with no excuses of discipline, without physically hazardous practice sessions, he took the 26 (which dwindled down to 23 by seasons end) and turned them into a respectable football team.  But the turnaround did not really come until after they had lost four of their first five games.

Most of the Naples High players had been playing football together since they were nine years old, and the idea of going through a third 1-9 season was not too appealing.  On one bus trip to a game Pete turned to halfback Mark DeVoe and said: ‘You know DeVoe, this is our senior year.  We’ve played three years and we’ve now lost 20 games.  When are we going to win one?”

The upset victory over Lely atoned for much of past three years of football frustration for Naples High.

“We came home after that game and Mom wrote Pete a note,” Preble Staver said. “It had congratulations and so forth on it and she put it where he could find it when he came home because the boys stayed out that night.  Late Mom heard him up in his room and she went in and talked to him, I guess about everything.  And then the following week, this all happened so fast…”
Pete Staver was dead.


His kidneys and corneas were donated to organ banks.  They buried him with his high school letter and retired his uniform jersey, No. 80.  A scholarship fund was started in his name and is closing in on $10,000 in its first year.  Plans were made to build a memorial to him at the football field.  This latter plan left some faculty of Naples High grumbling about football being glorified out of proportion.

“SOME PEOPLE SAY you should be bitter, you should hate football, but we don’t” says Preble Staver.  “We know that Pete died happy.  We know he was doing what he wanted to do.  We didn’t feel for a moment that the coaching staff or the facilities or the equipment had been shortchanged.

“You know, the hardest thing, the most difficult thing for me to accept, is that someone that strong, someone that virile, could be dead.  Here was a guy who was so active, who had loved life so much.  But the whole time he was in the hospital he never moved…”

And his eyes clouded over and he cleared his throat before he went on because it was so good to have had a son like Pete and so hard to have lost him.

“I’ll tell you a little saying I learned that covers this whole darned thing: ‘Adversity makes us bitter or better.’ I go by that.  Otherwise you’d tear yourself up with bitterness.  The one thing I don’t want to do is get maudlin about this.  I don’t want to make Pete out to be something he wasn’t.  You can’t make him out a hero in your mind after the fact and you don’t want to because you know it isn’t true.  He was human. He had his good points and he had his bad points.  You try to level it back so as the years go by, that 10 or 20 years from now, Lord willing, I won’t have built up a false picture of this boy I remember.

“I want to be able to remember him the way he was that one summer when he was helping put in a sprinkler system on the golf course. He’d come home and walk in the house in his cutoff jeans and work shoes, his face dirty and streaked with sweat, that red baseball cap he always wore turned around backwards, this big, brawny kid stomping into the house and saying: ‘Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?’  That’s the way I want to remember him.  That’s the Pete we’re going to miss.