Polk County Sports Marketing Press Release
Auburndale: The Polk County Sports Hall of Fame will induct eight members this year, including two former NFL players, three who have championed their sport to new heights, and others who have supported the engines that continue to drive championships in Polk County.
Jason Odom: A Bartow High graduate who attended the University of Florida and was named first team All American in 1995. Considered one of the top 100 Gators from the first 100 years of Florida football, the four year starter offensive tackle continued into the NFL after the 1996 draft, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A back injury forced Odom to retire in 2001. Until recently, he continued to serve the people of Florida as a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Josephine Austin: A graduate of Bartow’s Union Academy as the class valedictorian, she continued on to Tennessee State University. She returned to Polk County at Lake Wales Roosevelt High School as a basketball coach, guiding her team to state runner up her first year before becoming the state champion the next. She returned to coaching years later, leading the Winter Haven Blue Devils to three straight County Championships and was named coach of the year three times by the Lakeland Ledger. She continued to lead off the court as well, striving for equal pay for the coaches of girl’s sports as well as equal quality for female athletics.
Bob Georges: This Staten Island, New York kid graduated from Florida Southern in 1973. Bob stayed around Lakeland, and established himself as a successful small business owner. His generous support of Polk State and Florida Southern athletics and George Jenkins basketball as well as various charitable causes including the Salvation Army and March of Dimes, has touched the lives of thousands of Polk County children.
Lorraine Valerino: Winter Haven High and Troy State University grad Lorraine Valerino became involved with synchronized swimming at the age of 9 at the Haven Hotel’s pool overlooking Lake Howard. She won three gold medals at the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Championships in St. Louis in 1985 – and continues to compete in the sport today – but perhaps his largest impact on the sport has come as a coach at the Lakeland YMCA, where a generation of Flamingo swimmers has continued the sport for more than 30 years.
Claude Woodruff: The former Bartow High and Florida A&M University linebacker was one of six football players to graduate in 1952. A member of the Rattlers Sports Hall of Fame, his teams won the Black College National Title in 1950. From 1952 to 1986, Woodruff taught science and physical education at several high schools in the Central Florida area. Additionally, as a coach, he posted eight undefeated seasons in football in Orange County as well as five state championships in track and field at Union Academy. At UA, he mentored seven students who would reach the NFL, including former FAMU head football coach Ken Riley. Woodruff passed away in 2009.
Gene Engle: This year marks the 80th Orange Cup Regatta powerboat race in Lakeland. And for most of those years, Gene Engle, whose father started the race, has been managing the longest running boat race in Florida’s history.
One of the founding members of the Central Florida Development Council and the Polk County Tourist Development Council, Gene was instrumental in bringing the UIM World Championships to Polk County in 2014.
Engle has served on various boards in the area, including the original Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing board, was the founding director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, and served as chairman of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1985, it was Gene’s hard work that brought the Miss USA Pageant to the then-Lakeland Civic Center, where it was broadcast live. Today, the Orange Cup brings Polk County nearly a quarter of a million dollars in economic impact, but beyond that, it is a signature event for powerboat racing the world over, having earned Lake Hollingsworth the nickname of “The Lake of Records.”
Gene was PCSM’s first chairman in 1992. Under his tutelage, PCSM produced a $17 million economic impact in the first year. Today, that same organization, operating much as Gene left it, is considered an industry leader and has turned into a $137 million economic engine.
Ron Morrow: An original board member and co-founder of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, Morrow became chairman of Polk County Sports Marketing Committee in 1993. Due to his years in the banking industry, he helped establish the department’s foundation for accountability, economic impact and recruiting strategies. Possibly even more important was his tireless support of promoting the economic value of the sports industry in Polk County as well as the State of Florida. In part, Morrow’s legacy in Polk County will be his early recognition of the sports industry as a powerful economic engine, and one that had the potential to create jobs, improve the local economy and diversify Polk’s economic portfolio.
During his tenure at PCSM, Ron was involved early on in the recruiting process of our largest clients, including Youth Basketball of America’s National Championships, United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs National Championships and the Cleveland Indians Spring Training, all of which served as early examples of the economic impact sports could have on Polk County.
Wayne Gandy: In the NFL, offensive tackles are often thought of the doormen for running backs, creating opportunities for others to excel. After playing 15 years at one of football’s most punishing positions, Gandy continues to created opportunities for others through The Wayne Gandy Foundation, using the power of sports to develop leadership, social responsibility and academic excellence in others. The Haines City High School graduate excelled at Auburn University as well as in the NFL, where he was an All Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001. Today, he not only runs camps throughout the South, but also has a syndicated three hour radio show, the Sports Joc Show with Wayne Gandy, and serves as a color analyst for ESPN.