NEW PORT RICHEY — At 6 feet 5 and 300 pounds, Ron Spriggs cast a giant shadow during 15 years of teaching and coaching at River Ridge High School.
He was part of the original faculty when the school opened in 1991, and joined with some fellow teachers for a unique welcome to parents at the first PTA meeting. They put together a rock 'n' roll band and named it after the school's mascot.
Knight Sounds played two songs, Proud Mary and Saturday in the Park, and the crowd of 900 roared their approval.
"That's a great memory,'' said Darrell Huling, one of the band members who is now an administrator in the school district's headquarters in Land O'Lakes.
The image of the hulking Spriggs dwarfing his drum set makes Huling smile through an otherwise sad time. His friend died on March 13 at age 59.
Spriggs earned accolades as a golf and tennis coach at River Ridge. He led the girls' tennis team to the state championship tournament in 2005, a first for the school. He taught physical education to hundreds of kids, and in his off time he enjoyed playing with the band that got so good it opened for the likes of the Platters, the Drifters, Dion and Bertie Higgins.
But as Spriggs neared the end of his career, he fell into a depression after the death of his parents, Huling said. "He spiraled out of control; got into some drugs that just drove him deeper into depression.''
His marriage fell apart about the same time he retired in 2006. Huling, who was Pasco's teacher of the year in 1997, tried to keep in touch with Spriggs. "I wanted to be the contact person for him when he was ready to come out of the place he was at. I hoped he would turn it around. There were times he would call and talk about how he'd screwed up his life.''
Spriggs had been an avid golfer from the time he was a teenager in Tampa. It earned him a scholarship at Belmont University in Nashville, and his game remained strong for years. Huling tried several times to draw on that love for golf, setting up dates. But then Spriggs wouldn't show up.
Recently he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. He lived alone in a house in Holiday. Huling went to see him. "He was so frail. He could barely move across the room.''
Spriggs has only distant relatives, Huling said, so he and some other friends are trying to arrange a memorial and cremation. "A lot of people knew and liked Ron,'' he said. "I'm sure they would like to say goodbye.''
Huling said he would like to raise the $1,300 to cover the expenses at Dobies Funeral Home in Holiday. Any contributions can be in Spriggs' name to the Pasco Education Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 1248, Land O'Lakes, FL 34639. Any money leftover will go to scholarships, he said. Chip Wichmanowski, executive director of the foundation and a former elementary school principal, recalled Spriggs as "one of the most popular PE coaches I've ever seen. The kids loved him.''
Huling intends to honor one of his friend's last requests.
He will spread his ashes on a golf course.