An event that was a long time coming and something I, as the ageless sports editor of this publication, had dreamed about for many years, came to beautiful fruition last week.
The event was the very first, the inaugural, Miami Springs Senior High School Athletic Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony. That’s right, Springs High athletics now has its very own HOF section of the high school and seven plaques will be going up on the wall outside the school’s auditorium very soon.
I was honored and privileged to be asked and graciously accepted the role as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and what a wonderful evening it was.
Not sure what to expect as recently as a few months ago when, as a member of the HOF Selection Committee, I attended meetings that indicated doing this for the first time might be a struggle and wondering exactly how many folks we would be able to get to purchase tickets for the $75-a-plate event, it all came out magnificent in the end.
How many people were there? Let’s put it this way: Carlos Santana, who runs the Country Club and the man responsible for the beautiful setup in the Dynasty Room, couldn’t have fit another table or chair in there as the banquet went from, “How many will we get?” to, “It’s a sellout.”
But more than quantity last week was quality as people, from family members to former players to friends, crowded the Country Club to honor seven different inductees ranging from the mid-’60s when the school first opened to the late ’80s.
There was the oldest member, former boys and girls swimming coach Bill Diaz (1965-70), who was a clear inspiration during the evening as the man, despite closing in on 90 years of age and wheelchair-bound being pushed by his son John, still managed to give a terrifically poignant speech showing a remarkable memory of events.
The youngest? Another inspiration, Tosie LeGrand, who I had the pleasure presenting. Since leading the girls soccer team to a state title in 1988 and graduating in 1989, LeGrand has gone on to a distinguished military career.
Having risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel, LeGrand has been stationed in ravaged Fort Hood, Texas (two separate shooting incidents since 2009, including last month) and was given a standing ovation by the crowd before I was even done reading off her magnificent military accomplishments.
Between the oldest and youngest were five other inductees and special recognition for a long-time contribitor to the program.
Two other coaches, Shelly Dunkel who coached the Springs baseball program for more than two decades from the mid-’70s to the mid-’90s and has the field at the school named after him and Buddy Goins, who coached the football program for 26 seasons from 1976 to 2001, including three undefeated regular seasons and a total of 263 career wins, received their plaques.
Phil Jones was, in my mind at least, a “no-brainer.” Jones was the only Springs athlete in the school’s five-decade history to win The Miami Herald’s prestigious Athlete of the Year award, doing it in 1973 for his talents in both football and wrestling, a sport in which he won a state title.
Under the tutelage of Diaz, Wendy Fordyce was as talented a female swimmer as anyone to ever dive into a swimming pool and proved it by setting state and national records in helping her team to a state title in 1970, while Vince Kendrick was one whale of a football talent who, like Fordyce also graduated in 1970, moving on to break a race barrier by becoming the first African-American from South Florida to play football at the University of Florida.
Unfortunately, due to a death in the family and his own personal health battles, both Fordyce and Kendrick, respectively, were unable to attend the event.
Karen Borgman, Fordyce’s presenter, graciously accepted on her behalf while also reading a prepared statement from Fordyce. Kendrick was presented by his former teammate Roger Madan and Kendrick’s wife Altermease made the trip down from the Jacksonville area to accept on her husband’s behalf.
Not enough space exists on this page to go into every highlight from the evening but there was one that stood out.
At the top of the list were a pair of emotional speeches from Dunkel’s presenter, former player Juan “Juanchie” Amador, and Dunkel himself.
After making a few wisecracks as only Amador can do, he began to speak seriously of the impact Dunkel had on his life and his appreciation for giving “a short 5-7 freshman with not much talent” a shot at not only getting on the field, but overcoming physical obstacles with grit and determination, which he took with him to achieve success later in life.
After getting off to a solid start, Dunkel soon began to lose it. His authentic love for his players, including Amador, came to the surface when he struggled terribly to get words out. He especially broke down when he had to bring up a group of former players — Eloy Gil, Tommy Gil, Nate Ferguson and Luis Fernandez — who passed away for assorted reasons.
“No coach should ever have to bury any of the kids he coached,” said Dunkel.
Finally, there was a Special Recognition Award, which will be given out each year to a person who has reached out and been a big supporter of athletics at Springs High and the first recipient was Doug Orr, owner and founder of Orr Plumbing on the west side of town and whose countless financial donations in helping the different programs at the school did not go unnoticed.
In the end, it was an evening I didn’t want to end as it was more than 45 minutes after things had concluded, shooting the breeze with so many Springs alums, that I finally headed to the parking lot. Can’t wait for the 2015 class.