A little rain didn’t dampen any spirits at the Bing Rooming House Museum on June 6, as people gathered to celebrate the life of Ginger Bennett Forté.
The City of Plant City honored the late educator by proclaiming June 1 as Ginger Forté Day. People came out later in the week to honor Forté, a Plant City native and a celebrated Plant City High School alumna, and some of her items were donated to the museum that afternoon. A framed PCHS basketball jersey donated by her Class of 1984 classmates was unveiled outside by members of the Ginger’s Jewelz group. A photograph from her senior prom and one of her basketball portraits were also donated to the museum.
William Thomas Jr. said Forté set a great example for young Plant Citians as someone who got an education, came back and made her hometown better than it was when she first left it.
“She came back home, she engaged with her school and impacted those who came behind her… she’s someone in the community who made a difference,” Thomas said.
Thomas hopes to help the Bing House museum start a sports “hall of fame” upstairs, for which Forté is a perfect fit. The museum also received a photo of Horace Broadnax, who helped lead the Raiders to a state basketball championship in 1982. He also hopes the city will use Ginger Forté Day as a starting point to recognize other influential African-Americans of Plant City’s past.
Forté was well-known for her athletic talents. She starred on the court for PCHS and later played collegiate hoops at the University of South Florida. In 2016, she became the first PCHS girls basketball player to have her No. 23 jersey retired, joining Broadnax and Russell Evans in an on-court ceremony.
“I think Michael Jordan might have copied me,” she joked at the time.
Forté led the Lady Raiders in scoring and in 1984 she averaged more than 20 points per game and led the undefeated team all the way into the regional playoffs. She said she was told after her senior season that her number would be retired before she got to USF, though it didn’t stay retired.
“Somehow, my jersey number got back out and (kids) were wearing it again,” Forté said at the ceremony. “For them to (retire) it again, I’m really honored.”
In her senior year of high school, the 1983-84 school year, Forté made PCHS history when she became the school’s first-ever black homecoming queen. Before then, only Paulette Dupont had a similar honor when she was named a “sponsor” by the football team and was named to the Reign ’n’ Shine court in 1970, according to the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center.
“Even when she won homecoming queen, she never boasted about that,” Tina Green, event organizer and a close friend of Forté’s, said. “Even though she was the first female athlete to get her jersey retired, she didn’t boast about that either.”
After college, Forté came back home and joined the PCHS cosmetology department, where she spent many years helping students pick up a valuable trade and mentoring them as well.
Forté was a devout Christian and spent much time mentoring young girls at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Last year, shortly after her passing, the Ginger’s Jewelz group was formed to give away school supplies to kids of all ages and guide them in their faith — something Forté started doing when she was alive. On Aug. 11, 2019, the group gave out book bags, school supplies and care baskets to 10 school-aged girls who attend Mt. Olive.
“That was her main focus and her main legacy,” Green said, “so we want to keep that going on.”