By: Katherine Smith
September 4, 2011
You’d be hard pressed to find any entity in the Bay area that Lee Roy Selmon didn’t impact and high school football is no exception. Lee Roy embraced the high school community and often spoke to teams and generously contributed time and funds.
Last year before the Jefferson Dragons won the school’s first state championship, Lee Roy addressed the team. His namesake restaurant sponsored the team’s pre-game breakfast and he joined the team at its Central Tampa campus before the squad departed for its game in Orlando.
Also last year, the Tampa Tribune’s football season preview theme was preps to pros and featured high school players posing for photos with various current and former Buccaneers. I simply asked Lee Roy at a Buc function if he was interested in taking part and without hesitation he said yes. He proudly posed for photos with several high school players, including James Wilder. It was honor for everyone involved to be in the mere presence of not only one of the best to ever play the game, but also such a truly great person.
Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant has been a huge supporter of Plant’s football program and many programs in the Bay area. In a glass case in the original Lee Roy Selmon’s on Boy Scout Road, a Plant helmet and signed football from one of the three state championship Plant teams is proudly displayed.
“He was a champion for high school sports, but mostly, he was a champion for humanity,’’ Weiner said. “We teach our kids to be ferocious on the football field, but when they step off to be gentlemen and I don’t know that you have a better example of that than Lee Roy Selmon.
“His humility was 100% sincere.’’
Weiner and his family were inaugural Bucs season ticket holders. They purchased their tickets four years before the franchise came to Tampa in 1976. For 8 straight seasons, Weiner attended every Bucs home game.
“That was my first introduction to football,’’ Weiner said. “I loved watching Lee Roy play. I just remember him being a mauler. His huge arms outstretched chasing after quarterbacks was an amazing sight. It was like a bear engulfing a quarterback. There were a lot of bad plays those first couple of years, but you could always count on at least three maulings by Lee Roy.
“I was there at the beginning when things weren’t always so good, but Lee Roy was always a shining light.’’
Jesuit head coach James Harrell played in the NFL for eight seasons and against Lee Roy when Harrell was with the Detroit Lions.
“It’s a sad day in Tampa. We lost a great man,’’ Harrell said. “A guy who inspired everyone. There was always a smile on his face. He was someone you could go to for advice. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He returned all phone calls. Everybody was important.”
Hillsborough High head coach Earl Garcia: “He was a great person who happened to be a great football player. He was such a class act. He didn’t have a closet to have any skeletons. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and he took great care of himself and everyone around him. And now he’s gone at 56. It’s a huge loss.”
Tampa Catholic head coach Bob Henriquez: “What amazes me most about Lee Roy is the number of lives he touched. It seems like everyone knew Lee Roy. We mention him to the team at halftime of our game Friday night and there were players who knew him through their church or by something Lee Roy did to help them straighten out something in their lives. It’s just devastating for the community to lose someone like that.”
Armwood coach Sean Callahan had a special encounter with Lee Roy when he first got into coaching.
“I was a 22-year-old kid who just started coach high school football (at East Bay at that time). I was playing pick-up basketball at Carrollwood Park and this tall guy walks into the gym and starts shooting around with me. I didn’t even know it was Lee Roy Selmon. So later I find out it’s him and I say ‘Sorry, I had no idea.’ And he says ‘It’s OK. I didn’t know who you were.’ And then I start talking to him about how I’ve just started coaching high school football and he tells me about how many lives I’m going to touch and how he and his brothers were so influenced by their high school coach in Oklahoma. He came back to the gym a few nights later and we played some 1-on-1 and he was just go graceful and so athletic and was dunking the ball with ease.
“Years later, we’d see each other in various football circles, shake hands and he’d talk about those nights at Carrollwood rec center and ask me about my football teams and my kids. I think about that and it strikes me how everything was right with Lee Roy. It was never about race or money or your stature in the world. With him, it was who you were as a person.”