SAFETY HARBOR — Bill Broome is the funny guy at Safety Harbor Elementary School. He's the person who always has a smile on his face, the one who often jokes around.
But Thursday morning, the joke was on him.
When Broome, who has taught PE at the school for 34 years, arrived at what he thought was a fundraiser ceremony, he was shocked to discover it was a party to recognize him and his impact on the community.
"The prankster got pranked," Broome said.
On hand were the 600-plus students and about 50 adults during an hourlong festivity for the man known affectionately as "Coach Broome" in the school's covered court.
Principal Robert Kalach spoke, Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold read a proclamation declaring it Bill Broome Day, students read letters, teachers spoke about their colleague, Broome's son talked about his father and parents commended him.
Several times, the audience cheered loudly.
Tears flowed from the eyes of many, including Broome.
"I'm totally overwhelmed by this," he told them.
Broome, 59, initially wanted to live and work in his native Kentucky after graduating from Berea College in Berea, Ky. He sent out 25 resumes in the greater Lexington area but got no bites. At the suggestion of his wife, Stephany, he applied for a few positions in Florida and got one.
The couple moved to Pinellas County in 1972 and have been here ever since. Broome, who lives in Dunedin, landed at Safety Harbor in 1976 after stints at Lakewood Elementary and North Ward Elementary.
At times during his tenure, he thought about switching to newer schools, but his bond with Safety Harbor wouldn't let him.
"My friends would always say, 'Why would you leave? You have everything,' " he said.
On Thursday, those who spoke of Broome, a finalist for Pinellas outstanding educator, described him as generous, caring, knowledgeable and thoughtful. The word "love" was used often.
They said Broome has a big heart and a unique sense of humor.
Some talked about his dancing ability (he loves the oldies).
Others described his compassion (he once carried an injured student to the infirmary).
Students made signs for their beloved teacher. The PTA gave him gifts, including a plaque.
One teacher even wrote a poem.
In one of several touching speeches, fifth-grader Kara Kane, 11, told Broome, "I wish you could graduate with me." When finished, she ran to hug his 6-foot-2 frame.
This could be Broome's final year at the school because of the Deferred Retirement Option Program, commonly known as DROP.
He said Thursday that he hopes that isn't the case, and plans to reapply for his position.
He's not ready to leave just yet.
And judging by Thursday's reception, the feeling among his peers and students is mutual.
"My kids love him," said Hawaii Grimes, who has two children at the school.
At one point as Broome spoke, he looked at the students and addressed them.
"You," he said, "are what matters to me."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4156.