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Billy Reed earns 36 years of praise in one night

I've been missing out.

Missing out on hilarious stories, missing out on Tampa history lessons, missing out on the wisdom that comes from a man who has spent 36 years educating, informing and raising Tampa youths.

I've talked to Hillsborough baseball coach Billy Reed on a number of occasions. I've covered his games and I've sat in his office. His baseball successes and his ability to cultivate major league talent are well known.

But not until I attended Reed's retirement celebration Sunday night did I realize the depth of his character and the magnitude of his actions. Reed, 62, is giving up teaching but will continue to coach the Terriers for a "few more years."

After hearing four generations of friends and family pay tribute, it was clear I had only taken a few sips from his fountain of knowledge.

The well-designed program allowed guest speakers to take the audience through Reed's life: from his playing days at all-black Middleton High through his time as a star athlete at Florida A&M to his return to the community.

The stories teemed with the warm humor that comes from the good-natured ribbing of lifelong friends. Purcell "Nick" Houston and Samuel "Big March" Marshall, Reed's roommates in FAMU's Sampson Hall (Room 212), were the masters of ceremony. The two wove humor into every introduction, telling mostly of Reed's adoration for food.

Houston said Reed called for an early "lights out" in the dorm room one night, and was then heard quietly munching on a sweet potato pie from home that he didn't want to share.

In those days, the coach was known as "Ziggy" Reed and his best friend was Charles "Trickshot" White. The two, known as "Batman and Robin," were generally considered two of the best athletes ever to come out of Hyde Park, and both attended FAMU.

White joked that while some graduated from FAMU with honors, and some cum laude, he and Reed graduated "thank you" laude.

Between laughs, you learned that Reed was a three-sport high school star and probably the only person in Middleton history who captained the football, baseball and basketball teams.

After a brief stint at Tuskegee, he transferred to FAMU, where his success in basketball and baseball eventually earned him a spot in the Rattlers' Hall of Fame. He had hoped to continue in professional baseball, but was drafted into the Army and hurt his arm.

Reed returned to Middleton as a coach and teacher, and became one of the co-founders of the fabled Belmont Heights Little League program. Benjamin Rouse, another Belmont co-founder, offered strong words of praise. So did Luarther Robertson, one of Reed's students at Middleton.

However, it may have been Ike Williams who offered the most stirring tribute. Reed became a father figure to Williams when he was only a 2-year-old toddler, accompanying the coach whenever he could. Eventually, Williams blossomed into a football star and became one of the best running backs in FAMU history.

Yet when Williams was cut by an NFL team, he "didn't want anything to do with football." It was Reed who brought him back to the sport.

"He knew me, he knew my heart," Williams said. "He came by my house and said, "Show me how you run this play.' Here's the man who knew all the plays asking me to show him how to run a play.

"Then it hit me. This is where you belong (football). This is where you're happy."

Williams went on to become a top assistant at Hillsborough, and is often credited with developing many of the school's defensive backs who went on to play in college.

"All of you are happy he's retiring, but I'm begging him to stay," Williams said. "He's done so much for me, I don't want him to go.

"Coach, I love you, I love you, I love you."

Many can offer that tribute, including pro stars Dwight Gooden, Vance Lovelace, Kiki Jones (all in attendance Sunday).

Also attending were current players such as Louis Martinez and Eric Fulgeria. Former stars, future stars and guys who rode the bench: all have had a place in Reed's heart.

Reed remained modest and offered only a few sentences in acknowledging his well-wishers. As always, he was the quiet leader.

A night filled with words of praise was needed for a man who spent a lifetime letting his actions speak for him. But in one night, could you fully capture what Isadore "Billy" Reed has meant to his community, his college, his school, his players, his family?

Coach, I think it'll take a few more days. I hope you don't mind.