Larry Siegel came to Tampa on a football scholarship. It was at the University of Tampa where he also met Maria and began a 59-year marriage.
Siegel, who died at age 81, might have influenced many youth in Tampa. There must be thousands who were affected in some way by Siegel, whether it was the Police Athletic League (PAL) program he founded in Tampa or the kids he worked with weekly on reading at Cleveland Elementary School.
Dick Rivett was one of those kids. “I really had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was playing in a pickup basketball game in Drew Park. Larry not only pointed me in the right direction, it was because of him I went on to join the Tampa police force.”
Siegel taught boxing to the kids at the Children’s Home. He was involved with children at St. Joseph’s Hospital and a half-dozen other causes. He was a senior lifeguard instructor for the Red Cross and worked with young people through the Optimists and the North Tampa Chamber of Commerce, which named him their citizen of the year in 1990.
Rodney Justo is one of Tampa’s top singing talents. These days he leads the band “Coo Coo Ca Choo,” but his band, “Rodney and the Mystics,” backed many of the national touring groups at the weekly shows at the Clearwater Auditorium.
“I grew up literally on the other side of the tracks over by Chamberlain High School,” he says. “I remember going to the Boys Club where they had all these mats spread out on the gym floor and there would be Larry Siegel on his knees, showing us wrestling moves and how to protect ourselves. He was like a big bear.”
But it was the Police Athletic League that Siegel worked so hard on for almost 40 years. He was the person who brought the program to Tampa, who begged and borrowed to get it off the ground and then maintained it.
Most of the kids just called him “Coach.” It seemed he always was out there on the field or in the gym. At the same time he knew the critical value of education and never missed an opportunity to tutor or encourage young people off the field as well.
Larry Siegel was one of the really good guys and he will be missed.