The Miami Herald’s Lifetime Achievement Award | Joel Furnari

Helping children was ‘a way of life’ for Furnari


Special to The Miami Herald

After 32 years of service to South Dade High School, longtime athletic director Joel Furnari was honored at the All-Dade Awards on Wednesday.

Joel Furnari and South Dade High go back a long, long time — some 32 years.

They might be parting ways, but there is no way they are parting from the memories.

As Braddock’s athletic director, Kevin Whelan, who considers Furnari his mentor, put it, “Joel Furnari is loved throughout Homestead.”

Those 32 years Furnari put in at South Dade, 29 of them as athletic director, and the atmosphere he created in the Homestead community is why he was awarded The Miami Herald’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Wednesday morning’s All-Dade Athletic Awards Breakfast.

The fact he is retiring from the school system does not mean Furnari will no longer be working with kids. He will be joining the First Tee of Miami in its youth tutoring and golf programs based out of International Links-Melreese Golf Course.

As for looking back at his 32 years at South Dade, Furnari said, “It was a way of life, not a job.

“It’s all about the kids. Without the kids, we wouldn’t be doing anything.”

Furnari wishes even more people could be singled out besides himself.

“A lot of people put a lot of time into high school athletics,” he said. “It’s not a small group.”

Even though he is a true local, attending Coral Park High as a teenager, Furnari will forever be linked to a high school different from the one he graduated from — South Dade, a school that he guided to its best years in sports.

Furnari pretty much set in motion for the school to get its nickname of Buccaneers.

Once known as the Rebels, that nickname was ruled offensive, and it was mandated that it should be changed. As an interim measure for several years, the nickname was changed to Big Blue. The mascot was a great, big blue blob that roamed the sideline.

Finally, under Furnari’s leadership, the nickname was changed to the current Buccaneers. That change was made at halftime of a football game in 1981, the team playing the first half as the Big Blue and the second half as Buccaneers.

Furnari also recalled the time at a football game when a guy in a green bikini jumped the fence at Harris Field and streaked across the field.

Did he lose the bikini during his run?

“I really don’t know,” Furnari said. “I was laughing too hard to notice.”

There is one thing Furnari definitely does know.

“I’ve seen it all at South Dade, and it has been great,” he said.

Read more Miami-Dade High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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