TAMPA — Ray Seymour wore many hats in his four-decade love affair with softball. Player. Coach. Organizer. Director. But perhaps no title meant as much as the one bestowed upon him by his girls.
"We called him Papa Mustang," former Newsome High and current Tampa Mustangs catcher Hannah Pridemore said.
Mr. Seymour, who founded the Tampa Mustangs travel team and coached at Hillsborough Community College for a quarter century, died Tuesday night at age 72.
"There's been a lot of girls who have passed through these diamonds," Mr. Seymour told the Tampa Bay Times in 2015. "And I love every one of them."
Mr. Seymour's softball footprint in Tampa is massive. He started the Mustangs in 1981, organizing the west coast of Florida's first travel ball team. The Mustangs grew over the next 35 years into one of the country's fast-pitch powerhouses.
"Coach Ray took a lot of pride in the Mustangs organization," Mustangs coach Dave Handler said. "And he wanted all the players and coaches to have that same pride and take that same responsibility in upholding the integrity of the Mustangs."
The Mustang teams range in ages from 10 through 18 and have captured at least one national championship in each division. In all, the Mustangs have won 21 national titles. During his time in the dugout, Mr. Seymour amassed more than 1,000 wins.
But for all the success on the field, Mr. Seymour's biggest impact may have been felt off of it. Nearly 400 girls who have come through the program have gone on to play college softball.
"He loved to see girls commit to colleges," Pridemore said. "He would be ecstatic to see where they'd go and then continue to follow them in college. He was so proud to see what they accomplish."
Mr. Seymour, who also played fast-pitch softball after a collegiate football career at Texas El Paso, also guided HCC for 25 years, winning 683 games and capturing three Suncoast Conference Championships. Elizabeth Holloman had a unique perspective of Mr. Seymour — she played under him with the Hawks and just wrapped up her first season as an HCC coach.
"There isn't anyone in the county or anyone in the state I could have learned more from because he made you a better player, but also a better person," she said. "And even this year at his age, he had so much passion and was so fiery with the girls. I thought to myself that's exactly how I want to be when I am his age."
Jeff Almand, a seven-year assistant at HCC, routinely talked shop with Mr. Seymour but also cherished the conversations that had nothing to do with softball.
"We spoke a lot of his time in college playing football and being a young man and some of them aren't exactly fit for print," Almand said with a chuckle. "Great stuff."
Almand said his phone "has been buzzing constantly" the past few days with condolence messages. Several softball governing bodies, as well as a number of local travel teams, have posted Facebook messages regarding Mr. Seymour's passing.
"He made an impression on a lot of people, not just here, but across the nation," Almand said. "He was a father figure to so many young ladies and that's probably the best description I can give."
Mr. Seymour is survived by wife Cathy, daughter Sherrie and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held June 12 at 2 p.m. at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in Tampa so everyone will have one last chance to say goodbye to Papa Mustang.
"Ray was bigger than Tampa; bigger than Florida," Almand said. "He will be missed."