Before the curtains rolled up, Kevin Ford wasn't thinking about his shot at the Outstanding Educator Award.
On stage, he was listening to the Tarpon Springs High Jazz Ensemble as they performed at the ceremony. All the musicians were his students and he was considering what encouraging words he would say to them in class about their performance.
Moments later, Ford learned that he will leave his rental car behind this morning for a stretch limousine ride to work at Tarpon Springs High.
He will arrive at 7:05 a.m. not only as band leader, magnet director and founder of the Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts, but also as the 2014 Outstanding Educator for Pinellas County Public Schools.
Ford humbly accepted his award on stage at the Mahaffey Theater Tuesday night. He approached the podium ready to attribute his achievement to his fellow faculty.
"I'm a part of a department, a team, so I accept this honor on part of my team," said Ford, 46.
From 79 nominees, Ford was selected from a group of 10 finalists by superintendent Mike Grego and his top administrators. Along with the limo ride, Ford won a $2,000 scholarship to Nova Southeastern University, tickets to Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning games and a goodie bag.
Ford, a Clearwater native, returned to his home district after he graduated from the University of Florida in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in music education. Since then, the school's music program has grown from seven to 200 students.
Ford is credited with making the Tarpon Springs Marching Band a six-time Bands of America AA and AAA Division National Champion and a Bands of America Florida and Atlanta regional champion. The band was one of 11 bands from around the country to perform at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City last year.
"As they know, we don't really talk a whole lot about individual accomplishments," he said. "We talk about what the group could achieve together."
When Ford was announced as one of the finalists, one of his students, Sheridan Markham, spoke fondly about her teacher's never-ending supply of motivation.
"We are grateful to have a program with such a fearless leader," she said.
The event, sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, also recognized a teacher who was deemed a "fan favorite" in an online poll by students, teachers and parents.
Stephanie Martanovic, 31, a seventh-grade civics teacher at Safety Harbor Middle School, was lauded for her enthusiasm in the classroom. She also catapulted the school's yearbook status into publisher Herff Jones' top 10 yearbooks of 2013.
As the Fan Favorite winner, she gets to throw the first pitch at Pinellas Education Night at a Tampa Bay Rays game on May 10, a treat for Martanovic, who is a Rays fan.
"It just feels really nice to be recognized by the work I do by the people I love," she said.