It came as a surprise to many. The latest group to be inducted in the Bartow Youth Football Hall of Fame hadn’t expected it. They had given of their time and efforts, often with just the thanks of those around them. They didn’t do it to be recognized, but did what they did to make a difference in the lives of young people and the good of the community. The recognition became the icing atop the cake.
The fourth annual Hall of Fame Recognition Banquet has elevated membership to 27 and there are many more who will make up the classes of the future. On this night, seven people who have given of themselves shared the spotlight, a place few desired, for their efforts were never about them as individuals.
Following a delicious meal, the program began with the introduction of the evening’s guest speaker. Don’Tavius Sanders, the 2012 Bartow High School class president, who now attends Bethune-Cookman University, offered his views on what it means to be honored. He warned the crowd that he came from a long line of preachers and led the gathering in a song before starting. He cited three elements, beginning with the idea that you did not dwell on your failures. “You realized there are people in your life who will focus on that for you,” he said, citing that haters are nothing more than people who focus on being past reminders and not to be given precious time when in pursuit of a purpose. He added that those who are being honored realize how they got there and recognized the bridge they built to get to where they needed to go. As an example, Sanders cited dozens of historic facts that have molded and shaped the country to what it has become.
He told the honorees, “You are humble and willing to help others. Be careful how you treat strangers because you might be entertaining angels.” He added that success comes when “you stop comparing yourself to others. Just be you. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses because they probably don’t like you anyway.”
BYF Hall of Fame president James Davis was given a tough job in following Sanders to the podium. Davis told the gathering that the present has a beginning and the Hall honors those who have taken the beginning and carried it through. He honored four members of the Hall of Fame who have passed away, lighting a candle for each in memory. Those members are Tommy Walker, Frank Webster, Phil Hadden and Mack Greene.
BYF Executive Director Willie Myrick Jr. stepped up to the podium to introduce the newest members of the Hall. He expressed that, when contacted about the honor, all were surprised.
“We try to give back to the ones who gave to us,” he said. For some, this honor marked the first recognition for their efforts and was deeply appreciated.
Roger Cherry was first to be honored for his 10 years of coaching. Cherry, a resident of North Carolina, could not attend due to a family emergency and his award was accepted by BYF’s Gareth Washington.
Geraldine E. Burns served the organization as cheerleading coach and BYF director. “You do for others and it comes back to you,” she said when receiving the award.
James Hogan is a past president of the Mid Florida Football and Cheerleading Conference , who went to several Super Bowls with BYF during the 1980s.
Dorothy Harris Williams was honored posthumously for a variety of ways she assisted the program in her life. Her sister accepted the award and a fifth candle was lit in her memory.
Barbara Newell was the director of Bartow’s Parks & Recreation Department for 25 years and worked with the BYF organization on many projects, including the naming of Tommy Walker Field. Though a recipient of many deserving awards, she told the selection committee that being named to the BYF Hall of Fame was very special. Her award was accepted by Don Stratton.
Willie Myrick joked that last year’s induction of Odell Haggins featured the longest biography ever, but that was eclipsed by the credentials offered by Ken Riley. The former NFL standout, Bartow native Riley played for the Cincinnati Bengals after a stellar collegiate career academically and athletically at Florida A&M. After his playing days concluded, Riley has been active in community and youth programs. After Riley’s acceptance, Davis noted that BYF was the first hall of fame to acknowledge Ken Riley and the NFL must now get the message to do its part and place the deserving Riley into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Herman Stephens Jr. helped coach the younger players at BYF that went on to greater successes.
“It was good to see Bartow High School win the state title in ’96 with the kids I helped coach the very first day of their football careers.”
The newest class was joined by past honorees in attendance in reciting the Hall of Fame pledge.
Bartow Youth Football will be holding a special “Phil Hadden Day” on Saturday, July 27 at Tommy Walker Field. Their community is invited to attend this special event.