When you talk to a lot of young men in and around Gadsden County it isn't uncommon to hear "he's like father to me" when the name Joe Ferolito is mentioned.
"A lot of kids in the recreation program didn't have dads at home and Joe got to be with them through the sports program. A lot of them went to college because of him. He went out of his way, a lot of times, to help kids. He would fuss at them when they acted up but they didn't act up too much when they were with him," said Larry Edwards, who worked part-time at the recreation department for 18 years under Ferolito.
As director of parks and recreation for the city of Quincy for 30 years, Ferolito touched the lives of thousands of young men through the football and baseball programs. Ferolito said his aim was never just teach them sports but instead, sportsmanship.
"Our kids knew when they walked on the court or the diamond, they had to follow the rules and they had to be fair and honest. If some of them thought of me like a dad, that makes me proud," he said.
His abiding philosophy is leading by example. Ferolito said he did his best to show kids that it's as important to tell the truth as it is to swing a bat. This lesson was paramount with the summer league American Legion Post No. 84 teams that represented the county throughout the state for many years.
Ferolito is proud of all of "his kids." If he saw athletic potential in one his next step was to pick up the telephone and call a college coach. If the coach seemed interested he would pack the kid up in his car and take him to the college for coaches to evaluate. Those who got into college could look in the stands quite often and see Ferolito sitting there. When he couldn't make games, he called coaches regularly to find out how "his kids" were doing in the classroom and on the field.
"The first student I ever took to a college was Michael Graham. We drove down to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. He got a baseball scholarship and I think he has retired from the mailitary," Ferolito said.
He has been a major influence in placing student athletes at Florida A&M University, Florida State University, University of Florida, Jacksonville University, University of Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Edward Waters College and many others.
Ferolito is a modest man when it comes to accepting accolades. He said he didn't do anything alone and the success of the kids couldn't have been accomplished without the help of men like Tim Lane, Robert Bradwell, Greg Claiborne and the late Charleston Holt. He speculated that 80 to 95 percent of the young men he helped get college scholarships have been successful. Former NFL players like Dexter Jackson, Rodell Thomas, Ricky Smith and Abdul Howard participated in recreation department programs. Major League baseball players such as Roger Bailey and Tim Davis also came through the program.
"I have had a few disappointments but that's to be expected with kids. You hope for the best but there are a few that you will lose along the way," he said.
Ferolito, like any father, knows that all kids will not play professional sports. But, he said, the important thing is to instill character in all of the kids who came through he program.
"We have kids who have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, coaches, career military, a school superintendent and successful politicians," he said.
Former Quincy recreation director Johnny Randolph credits Ferolito with changing the direction of his life.
"He was a major influence in my life. My dad wasn't around when I was growing up and one of the great things he did for me was help me get into college through the Post 84 program which, he coordinated. I was able to get into college (Bethune-Cookman University) on baseball and a football scholarships," said Randolph, who is currently a manager with General Motors.
Restee Smith, now a minister, said Ferolito gave him the opportunity to play baseball at a higher level, which eventually led to his landing a college scholarship. It was Ferolito who told Smith, at age 13, that he could play at an advanced level.
"I was a little afraid about playing with and against older guys with more experience but he told me I could do it and I could handle it," Smith said.
Ferolito's own son and only child, Joey, said he was never jealous of the attention his dad gave to other kids.
"He is a great dad. He was gone a lot with sports but he always took me with him. It was great for me," Joey said.
The pride he has in his father is evident when he talks about how the two of them still attend sporting events together. He said that as a child the number of people his father knew and interacted with amazed him.
"You couldn't go anywhere between Pensacola and Jacksonville and talk about sports and (find people who didn’t know) my dad," he said.
Now a regional sales manager for McDavid Sports Medicine, responsible for nine states in the Midwest, Joey still marvels at the people he runs across in the sports industry who know his dad.
"My dad has been such a great influence on my life in so many ways. I am very proud of the fact that he has also been a big part of the lives of a lot of guys who are productive citizens," he said.