Alan Dell

Shannon should be in Hall of Fame

The time is right. It’s always been right, but now the meter is running, and it’s going to get expensive. At stake is the price of justice.

Eddie Shannon deserves his special place in history, and it’s up to the folks who benefitted from his endeavors to make it happen.

The list of lives he touched would include just about everyone who lives in Manatee County whether they know him or not.

He is 88 years old, so what are we waiting for?

A part of the world will find out about Shannon when the movie “Through The Tunnel” is shown at the Miami International Film festival for documentaries on Memorial Day weekend.

Folks around here don’t need to watch a movie to seek the product of his work. Go to a high school football game any place in Manatee County, and you will see the lives he touched, directly or indirectly.

The movie is about the Lincoln Memorial High football team. It focuses on its last year (with Shannon as head coach) before the school closed and what happened when many of its players went to Manatee High in 1969, the first year of integration.

Shannon went with them. He would never be a head coach again because he knew where he was needed most. All told, the 5-foot-3, 130-pound or so bundle of energy and good will spent 34 years coaching football at Lincoln Memorial and Manatee High.

He officially retired from teaching and coaching at Manatee High in 1987, but says, “I never retired from the team.”

That is vintage Shannon. He was an assistant coach at Lincoln Memorial for 11 years, the head coach for four years and then an assistant at Manatee High for 19 years.

The lives he touched reads like an induction list for a Hall of Fame, which is where he belongs.

Shannon coached Ray Bellamy, who was the first black football player to sign with a major college in the Deep South when he played at Miami in 1962.

He coached Henry Lawrence, the most successful football player to come out of Manatee County, playing 13 years in the NFL while winning three Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders.

He was the personal trainer for tennis great Althea Gibson when she was at Florida A&M before she went on to become the first black player to win Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

He carried the Olympic Torch for the 1996 Olympics and in 2004 received the Manatee County Distinguished Citizen Award.

But perhaps his best work came off the field in 1969 at Manatee High. It was the first year of integration, and tensions were high. There were no awards, but a heckuva lot of thanks.

One day the school was close to a riot and police were called to the campus. Little Eddie, home with the flu, was called by the school. Despite his small stature, he was the one person big enough to quell the disturbance. He met with both sides and eventually things settled down.

“I lost my color when they called me,” Shannon recalls. “I was the go-between and the whole thing in a nutshell is that the kids had to find out they could do things together. They, black and white, had never done things together, so this was all new to them.”

Shannon should be in the FHSAA Hall of Fame or have a street named after him. The bridge that overlooked Lincoln Memorial’s old football field is already considered Shannon’s Bridge in many people’s minds. Why not just make it official?

The FHSAA criteria for putting a coach into its Hall of Fame is based on three major factors: Must have coached for a minimum of 20 years and be of high character, and all nominees will be judged on their significant and/or long term contributions to high school athletics.

During his years at Lincoln, the team lost just a handful of games and won more than 140, but the contributions he made off the field had a bigger impact on society and stretched across the country.

This should be an easy call — a no brainer some might say.

Roger Dearing, former Manatee County Superintendent of Schools, is now the Executive Director of the FHSAA. What is everyone waiting for? The clock is ticking. Give him a call!