Florida Hall of Fame honors two

Former Cypress Garden Public Relations Director Bert Lacey posthumously received the Florida Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural Founder’s Award.

Bert Lacey, a man who was credited with the Florida Sports Hall of Fame’s (FSHOF)survival during critical times during its history and Joe Russell Sr., a long-time youth coach and youth sports organizer from Winter Park will be honored at the Florida State Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies today at the Amway Center.

Lacey, who passed away in 2018, will be posthumously presented with the Founder’s Award; while Russell will become the eighth recipient of the FSHOF’s Hewell Family Fame for Fitness Award.  

In addition, 11 sports legends, all with ties to the Sunshine State – including Orlando Magic founding father Pat Williams, World Series winner and MLB All-Star Jason Varitek, golf legend Annika Sorentam, former Orlando Magic star Nick Anderson, former Florida Citrus Sports Executive Chuck Rohe, former  UCF and NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper, former FSU Heiman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, University of Stetson coaching legend Pete Dunn, former Florida Gator and Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker David Little, former Florida Southern University volleyball coach Lois Webb and former UCF soccer star and professional player Winston DuBose – will be inducted into the Hall.

Lacey began his sports career as a high school basketball coach in Indiana, but became involved in the Florida Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association (FSSA) after moving to the Sunshine State. For the next four decades, he played key roles in both the FSSA and Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

As a public relations and marketing director at Cypress Gardens, Lacey used his influence to find the first permanent home for the Hall to display its memorabilia and to hold its annual induction ceremony at the Garden’s legendary Southern Mansion.

Lacey would move to Orlando, where he would become the first executive director of the Tangerine Bowl, and would later become a public relations executive with the Orlando Sentinel. While in those roles, Lacey would stay involved with the FSHOF, traveling the state to make connections and collect memorabilia for the Hall. He was instrumental in the establishment and opening of a new Florida Sports Hall of Fame building in Lake City in the 1990s.

When shifts in administration and loss of funding caused that facility to close, Lacey’s leadership, persistence and dogged determination kept the Florida Sports Hall of Fame alive and viable through some incredibly lean years. Through his persistence, Lacey lived to see the Hall reclaim its glory as a new FSHOF exhibit opened in Polk County.

“Without question, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame would not even exist had it not been for men like Bert Lacey,” FSHOF President Barry Smith said. “It is with extreme gratitude that I announce today that Bert will be the first recipient of the Founder’s Award.”

 Russell’s involvement in coaching youth started while he was still a pitcher at University of Central Florida. In the summers, he would coach baseball clinics at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.   

Upon graduation, he would then begin a 40-year career coaching youth sports in Central Florida, working with Little League Baseball, Little League and AAU Softball, Babe Ruth Baseball and Pop Warner Football.

He would often coach multiple teams at the same time. Russell also coached several all-star teams, and has served as a volunteer softball coach at Winter Park High.  

Off the field, Russell has served on the Board of Directors of Winter Park Little League, was president of Winter Park Pop Warner Football and was instrumental in the formation of the Central Florida Collegiate League – a summer wood bat baseball league for college players.  In his 40 years as a coach, Russell has mentored more than 1,300 students and has impacted the lives of thousands of others through the leadership he provided to these teams, leagues, schools and organizations.

“Each year, we select an individual or organization for the Hewell Family Fame for Fitness Award. In doing so, we honor those who mirror the Hall’s mission of promoting physical fitness awareness, education and the general health and well-being of the state’s children,” Smith noted.  “For the last 40 years, Joe Russell has made it his life’s mission to do exactly that.  There is no one more deserving to be our eighth recipient of our top award.”