by Dan Spoone
The dawning of spring reminds me of warm weather, spring baseball and my dad. He loved going to spring baseball games to see his Atlanta Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. We had Braves spring season tickets for several years. It was a chance for us to spend an afternoon in the warm Florida sun, and it gave me a chance to listen to his stories that provided a foundation for my life. These are now wonderful memories.
Now that Dad has been gone for three months, it has allowed me some time to reflect on his legacy. First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your kind thoughts for me and our family on the passing of my dad. I think about him every day and the values he taught me. Dad believed in fairness and respect for everyone. He was a man who always led by example.
Dad began his career in central Florida as a teacher and high school football coach in the late 1950s and 1960s. Mom and Dad grew up in East Tennessee and moved to Orlando, Florida to enjoy life in a larger community with more diversity and opportunity for growth. Orlando was a part of the “Jim Crow” south of the 1950s, and it was a challenge for my parents. Their belief in the rights of all people to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity was under constant assault.
My dad had the first integrated football teams in Seminole County (1965 Oviedo High), Volusia County (1966 Deland High) and Orange County (1968 Evans High). My thoughts go back to that spring baseball game with the Atlanta Braves. Now that I was an adult, Dad felt he could openly share his feelings with me. In 1965, I was eight and my sister, Cathy, was six. Dad was the head football coach at Oviedo High School. At this point in time, Oviedo had only one school for kindergarten through 12th grade (white only). There were only 17 players on the varsity football team. One of them was Simon Harper, a 15-year-old sophomore who was black. The other players welcomed Simon as a teammate, but the local community not so much. Dad shared with me that we received many phone calls protesting Simon’s inclusion on the team. These calls included terrible insults to my mom, my sister and death threats to my dad. On the team’s first road game in Leesburg, Fla., Simon was asked by the restaurant owner to leave the restaurant. He was not allowed inside. The team left the restaurant in unison in protest. Dad shared that this was one of his proudest moments as a coach.
I share this story not to praise my father, but to point out the struggles that so many endured in the past. Dad shared this story with me 30 years after it took place to reflect the changes he had seen in his life. His career continued to advance over the years with opportunities to serve as a principal at Howard Junior High, Oak Ridge High School and Dr. Phillips High School and as a member of the Orange County School Board. He always embraced diversity, equity and inclusion before anyone knew what to call it. He was an amazing role model.
We in ACB need to learn from the lessons of the past. I would like to compliment the Multicultural Affairs Committee for all of their wonderful presentations during Black History Month and their powerful articles in this month’s E-Forum. We still have a long way to go on our journey for equality within ACB, but thanks to your efforts, we are headed in the right directions. Dad, thanks for the legacy you have left me to always see myself in the other person’s shoes. I will try to make you proud.