Alan Dell

DELL COMMENTARY | Ray Bellamy gets his due: Lincoln Legend elected to FHSAA Hall of Fame

Ray Bellamy attends the Hall of Fame Honorees Celebration on May 26, 2012, at Lincoln Middle School in Palmetto. HERALD FILE PHOTO
Ray Bellamy attends the Hall of Fame Honorees Celebration on May 26, 2012, at Lincoln Middle School in Palmetto. HERALD FILE PHOTO pvidela@bradenton.com

BRADENTON

Ray Bellamy is probably the only person who doesn't see himself as a trailblazer, which might explain why the Lincoln High legend was able to accomplish so many things.

He was given an opportunity to change the lives of countless others and never strayed from the task.

The 2016 football season will mark the 50th anniversary of when he signed with Miami to become the first African-American to play for a major college football program south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

He is the Jackie Robinson of college football in the Southeast, and it's a reason he was recently elected into the Florida High School Athletic Association class of 2016 Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on Sept. 25 in Gainesville.

Bellamy was informed of the honor last Friday, and in a typical reaction, he said he didn't see himself as a person who opened the doors for some of the greatest African-American players to come out of Manatee County no less the South.

The list of greats who followed him seem endless. Tommie Frazier, Peter Warrick and Willie Taggart, current South Florida head football coach, are just a few of the football players that have become household names around Manatee County because of the path Bellamy paved.

"It is important that it's the state of Florida that is honoring me because

the state did so much for me and the people were responsible for me being able to do the things that I've done not just in sports, but in life," Bellamy said. "The community here made a commitment to me, and that's why every chance I get I try to give back. They have never left my side. A perfect example is when I gave out Thanksgiving Day turkey baskets and people came and helped from the sheriff's department, Palmetto Police Department and school board."

Bellamy has always tried to deflect the credit for what he accomplished or the influence he had on African-American athletes, who followed him,, but those who knew him won't allow that.

Ed Dick and Eddie Shannon, who played instrumental roles in the receiver signing with Miami, say he had to hurdle numerous obstacles to clear the path for others.

"Ray was certainly a trailblazer and went through hell," said Dick, who recruited Bellamy for Miami. "He received so many death threats that the FBI had to sleep outside his room in the hallway at away games. He should've been inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame years ago, but for some reason was put on the shelf, and it was a travesty of justice."

Now 94, Shannon remembers getting calls from Bellamy about how some of the players at Miami were treating him badly in the beginning. He just told him to stick it out and is proud that his best receiver did so much more than that.

At 6-foot-6 with blazing speed and soft hands, Bellamy had NFL talent out of high school and set numerous University of Miami freshman team records.

He followed that up with a stellar sophomore year that was highlighted in a game against Auburn when he caught eight passes for 121 yards at a time when throwing the ball was second to running.

A near-fatal car accident robbed Bellamy of his NFL talent prior to his senior year, but he showed his adaptability and became the first African-American to become student body president at the University of Miami.

"I am most proud of the fact that I made grades, and the other students realized that I was a student-athlete and allowed me to become student body president," said Bellamy, now an administrator at FAMU. "I got a degree and a masters, and no one can take that away from you. I thought about survival then. I was trying to make it in life and wanted to get an education. I never thought about a hall of fame. I wanted to do the right thing."

Bellamy will be the third person connected with Lincoln High football to be inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame, joining Shannon and Henry Lawrence, a three-time Super Bowl winner.

He reflects sometimes on what his career would've been if the car accident didn't happen, but is not one to focus on the negative, though it was surely a life-changing event.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about the accident, but I don't dwell on it. Life is full of tragedies," Bellamy said "Sometimes I am disappointed but I can't get angry. I will always be grateful for what the university and all those people did for me at Miami. And I can't forget the people back home. My mom and dad, Mary and Charlie Bellamy, Andy my brother, Leroy and Eddie Shannon and Ed Dick."

You can be sure there are a lot of people in his hometown who are very grateful for Ray Bellamy. His acceptance more than affirms what he has done for so many others.

Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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