It started as a casual conversation between two high school football coaches.
Gerald Dickens, a former Plant City High and University of Florida standout, mentioned to Plant City High assistant coach Roy Schmidberger about putting his name and picture on the wall, along with other former players who went on to play in college.
After talking to current Plant city head coach Wayne Ward, who was a standout himself for the Raiders before playing at Virginia Tech, Schmidberger learned the list of former Raiders that went to college is long.
“I asked him how many guys do we know that went to Plant City that went on to play in college, and Wayne just started rattling off names,” Schmidberger said.
Before long, the idea of the Plant City High Wall of Fame was born.
“I came up with the design, and that’s how we came up with the wall,” said Schmidberger, who makes the plaques and painted the Raiders logo on the wall.
There are now 15 photos and name plaques on the wall inside the entrance to the varsity locker room of the PCHS field house. Seven more (three from 2012 and four from 2013) will join the wall soon.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
The idea for the wall stemmed from Dickens’ experience at Florida.
“They do a great job bringing up tradition of the past and honoring former players,” Dickens said. “When I came back to Plant City, that was one of the things I wanted to implement.”
When Dickens was a standout for Plant City in the early 1980s, he remembers seeing pictures of former players in the weight room. Dickens went on to be a four-year letterman and two-year starter at UF, before becoming an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots. He played three years of pro ball — two with the Patriots and one in the World League.
The goal of the wall is not only to recognize former players who played in college but also to show current players that hard work and dedication pays off and can lead to a quality education.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Dickens said. “It’s good to go off to college, but the goal is to finish and get that degree.”
Since taking over as head coach four years ago, Ward has put a strong emphasis on the classroom.
“The biggest thing with having those pictures on the wall is to show the freshmen and the younger guys and make them want to be there some day,” Ward said. “Hopefully, that will motivate them and push them more to work harder in the classroom.”
Schmidberger said the wall shows players if they focus on academics, they can get to the next level.
“That’s what that room is really about — getting to the next level as long as you have the grades,” Schmidberger said.
So far, the wall has done its job as a motivation tool. Players can regularly be heard saying, “I’m going to be on that wall.”
“That’s what we want to hear, because that means you’re going to go to college,” Schmidberger said.
In 2013, six of Plant City’s 10 seniors signed with colleges. With three players in the 2014 class already committed — Montel McBride (Alabama), Landon Galloway (UCF) and Sedrick King (UCF) — and several more with offers, that number likely will grow.
Before long, there won’t be any wall left for plaques.
The names and schools on the wall range from Dickens’ Florida and Ward’s Virginia Tech to Kyle Paz, a 2011 grad who went on to play at Bridgewater College, a Division III school in Virginia.
“Paz was a small kid, but he worked his tail off, and now, he’s playing in college,” Schmidberger said. “It doesn’t matter if you play DI, DII, DIII or NAIA, as long as you go to college. That’s our biggest pushing point.”
Dickens said he would like to eventually add voting to the Wall of Fame, which would be based on their athletic and academic achievements.
“I’d like to see it get to the point where we have candidates and do inductions,” he said. “We want to showcase guys who are going off to college and actually graduating.”
HONORING THOSE LOST
To the right of the Wall of Fame are two Raiders jerseys — No. 12 and No. 74.
No. 74 belonged to Corey Pine, who died March 12, 2006, in a car accident just months before his graduation. He was 19 years old.
“He wasn’t the best, but he worked extremely hard and worked his way to becoming one of our top three offensive linemen,” Ward said. “He was just a joy to be around. His smile that he gave us just lit up the room, and it’s things like that that you miss.”
In similar fashion, wide receiver Adam Riber, No. 12, died in a car accident April 11, 2010, just two months before graduation.
Riber, 17, was a passenger in a 1990 200ZX, driven by Thomas C. Monroe, of Plant City. Riber played four years for the Raiders after two seasons with the Antioch Redskins.
“That one was tough, because I knew the kid,” Schmidberger said. “Everyone was effected by that.”
Both jersey numbers are retired.
“That’s what we don’t want on the wall,” Schmidberger said. “We have kids come in and say I want my number retired, and we say, ‘No, you don’t.’”