You would have thought it was a typical barbeque with plenty of fried fish, coleslaw, and baked beans, music, laughing and camaraderie among friends and acquaintances. But the crowd that gathered at Kennedy Park in Brooksville last Friday evening was there for a more serious purpose. They were there to pay tribute to Lorenzo Hamilton, Sr., a pillar of the community, who passed away October 4, 2022 at the age of 84.
Hamilton was known by many names−“Coach”, “Hamp”, “Pops” −and during his time here in Brooksville he wore many hats and achieved great things for the community. Hamilton was a role model to three generations of community members of all backgrounds.
He was a football, baseball and softball coach; teacher; assistant principal; bridge- builder between two very different communities at a time when there was strife and inequality; a father; husband; brother; and, yes, a disciplinarian.
When Coach Hamilton first came to Brooksville in 1965, there was no integration in the school system. The black students attended Moton High School and the white students attended Hernando High. After integration was complete, he transferred to Hernando High and eventually became assistant principal.
“I was a disciple of his. I was a 6th grader when I met him. I saw his vision and I followed him for all of my teen years and through my adult years. It was more than a 40 year relationship. He had an intention and a commitment to leave Brooksville a better community than what he found it. He created incredible opportunities for youth development and provided us an opportunity that a lot of communities did not have,” stated Imani Asukile.
Hamilton did this in many ways. He started the Kennedy Youth Club (KYC). He created a boys baseball league and opportunities for girls to play competitive softball. The girls’ team was called the Jets and were State Champions. Hamilton coordinated the first Black History assembly at Hernando High in 1971. To sum it up, he went beyond the call of duty.
A common thread that ran through the tributes was that he was a stern disciplinarian. Surprisingly enough, none of the kids resented the discipline. Many of the children came from homes where the father was not present and needed a role model, as well as a firm hand.
Reverend Clarence Green, a local pastor, put it this way, “For a person that grew up without a father I knew what I did was wrong and I was happy to take the punishment.” It must have worked because a large number of the children he mentored went on to have successful careers in all fields.
For example, Asukile became director of Global and Multi-cultural Services at Pasco-Hernando State College. Pete Burnett joined the army and retired as a colonel.
“He instilled in us a sense of commitment and responsibility, so that when we went to Hernando High we had the confidence that we could compete on a level with anybody,” said Burnett. “If it wasn’t for Coach Hamilton, a lot of us never would have had any idea that we wanted to go to college.”
Two of the boys who played sports under Hamilton went on to be NFL football players. Ricky Feacher played nine years for the Cleveland Browns. Maulty Moore played five seasons for the Miami Dolphins, one of which they went undefeated. He has two Super Bowl rings. He also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals. Moore is the first person from Brooksville to play in the NFL.
Many of the young people he mentored went to Bethune-Cookman University, his alma mater. However, he told Howard Blount, “You’re not going to Bethune-Cookman; you’re going to Howard University because they have an excellent medical program and you’re going to be a doctor.”
After years of Hamilton’s strict discipline, Blount knew enough not to disagree with him! Dr. Howard Blount now has a successful medical practice in Orlando.
Stephanie Richardson affectionately called him “Pops.” Hamilton and his wife, Mae Lois, who passed away two years ago, took in Stephanie and her sister Sheila when they were in grade school and made them part of the family. “The most outstanding memories I have of him is how well he brought the community together, how he coached us. He made us who we are today,” remarked Ms. Richardson.
Earl Lawson, who is married to Sheila Richardson, remembers the talks he and Hamilton used to have–whether it was about politics or anything else. According to Lawson, “Pops” could have gone anywhere with his skills, but he stayed in Brooksville because he saw the condition of the community and wanted to help the people here. “He tried to get the young people to think better about themselves−that they could accomplish a whole lot more than they thought they could,” said Lawson.
He taught the boys, by example, how to treat young ladies. Whenever he was taking players home in his car after a ball game, he would drop the girls off right at their door, while the boys he’d drop off at the end of the street!
Hamilton instilled in the girls how to act as young ladies, but also to stand up for themselves.
For example, when the schools were first integrated, black students were not allowed to be in sports or extracurricular activities. The black students protested and Janice Green was one of the spokespersons.
“I learned to be an orator and speaker because of ‘Hamp.’ He said ‘just go on up there and talk.’ When I was the only black person out of 100 students that were in the band, I loved it, but I wanted to get out because of the threats. He told me I can’t be afraid no matter what’s going on in your life as long as you’ve got God, courage and belief in yourself.”
Joe Solomon was one of the white students that Hamilton mentored. Known as Joey at the time, he chuckled when he recalled how “Coach” would call him Jody.
“I met Coach Hamilton when I was in 7th grade. He was like a father figure. He did not recognize the color of your skin at all. He recognized the character of the person you were.”
Gary Buel met Hamilton when he came to work at Hernando High at the age of twenty-two. “He took care of me. He took me under his wing and he showed me the ropes,” Buel remarked.
Another trait that Hamilton instilled in the young black children was not to make excuses−not to use racism as an excuse for failure. He taught them that “I am not disadvantaged; I am blessed.”
On Saturday the Celebration of Life was held at Family First Assembly in Spring Hill. The church was filled. Several pastors spoke, along with family members and people who knew him.
One of the most moving parts of the celebration was the rendition of “Wind Beneath my Wings” that Pastor Dell Barnes played on his saxophone. The solo went on for at least four minutes with Barnes pouring his heart and soul into his performance.
A projection screen had pictures of Hamilton. As the speakers got up to the podium to give their eulogies. It was as if Lorenzo Hamilton, Sr. was looking down upon the speakers and the mourners and inspiring them even in death.