GIBSONTON – Over the 57 years since East Bay High School was founded, thousands of students have passed through its halls. And according to Principal Maria Gsell, more than a few have gone on to become pioneers in their fields and outstanding leaders in their communities.
To ensure that these former East Bay Indians are always remembered, Gsell plans to unveil the East Bay High School “Wall of Legends” this fall.
“It’s not a new idea,” she said. “I’ve seen similar tributes at other high schools across the country and I thought it would be nice if we had our own Wall of Legends to recognize these people and to serve as an inspiration to our current and future students.”
Gsell has formed a Wall of Legends committee made up of current and former teachers, parents, administrators and alumni, which will review nominations and select the honorees.
The committee is now accepting nominations. Forms can be found on the school’s website, eastbay.mysdhc.org.
The first recipients will be honored in a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 during East Bay High School Alumni and Homecoming Week. In addition, a photo and plaque of each recipient will be placed in a Wall of Legends display case located outside the high school’s main office at 7710 Old Big Bend Road, Gibsonton.
“We’ve had so many graduates who excelled in the classroom, in scholastic competitions and in sports and have gone on to distinguish themselves after graduation,” Gsell said. “In addition, we’ve had many teachers, administrators and community supporters who have made significant contributions.”
Among them, she said, is Hillsborough Community College communications instructor Richard Gaspar, a committee member who designed the Wall of Legends and nomination form.
The 1987 East Bay graduate went on to become a Hillsborough County teacher and recipient of the Florida Teacher of the Year Award before joining the staff of HCC in 1999. Gaspar now teaches English, journalism and mass communications at HCC, sponsors HCC’s Hawk Media Club and serves as the adviser for HCC’s award-winning newspaper, The Hawkeye.
“Dr. Gaspar would be an ideal candidate for our wall,” said Gsell. “I hope someone nominates him.”
Another potential candidate for the Wall of Legends is 24-year East Bay wrestling coach Tom Lota, a 2006 inductee into the Florida Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2011, Lota witnessed the high school’s gymnasium renamed in his honor. He died of cancer two years later at the age of 63.
Gsell said the committee will consider nominations for posthumous awards. The only stipulation is that descendants of the nominee approve and agree to attend the ceremony.
Also a possible nominee is 1999 graduate, singer/songwriter Willa Ford. Raised in Ruskin, Ford released her debut album, “Willa Was Here,” in 2001, which reached No. 56 on the Billboard 2000. That same year she was the opening act for the Backstreet Boys’ “Into the Millennium” tour.
Ford competed in the 2006 season of television’s Dancing With the Stars, had a role in the 2009 slasher film, “Friday the 13th” and played Becca in the 2010 film, “Universal Squadrons.” She’s been seen on a number of television shows, including “The Glades,” “Leverage,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Chelsea Lately” and “Raising Dad.”
Wall of Legends recipients don’t have to be famous though, Gsell said.
“We’re looking for individuals who have made significant contributions in their fields at the local, state, national and international levels, people who have demonstrated the qualities of leadership, character and service in a variety of ways and have motivated others to achieve.”
There are three categories of nominees: alumni, faculty and community member. The committee will select one or two recipients in those categories each year. This year’s recipients will be selected during a committee meeting Aug. 7.
Anyone in the community can submit a nomination, Gsell said. Alumni nominees must have graduated at least 10 years ago, and faculty nominees must have been employed at East Bay at least five years ago. Once nominated, the person will remain on the nomination list for up to three years.
For more information, contact Gsell at (813) 671-5134.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]