Greg First and Kerry Ryman have witnessed their fair share of Zephyrhills High School football games over the last 40 years or so.
They’ve played a notable role over that time, too, with First providing play-by-play as the stadium announcer, and Ryman operating the clock and scoreboard.
They’ve also helped out with countless homecomings, senior nights and other special events at the school.
Because of those efforts, the press box at the high school stadium has been named to honor the two men.
A pregame ceremony on Oct. 1 made it official.
The Zephyrhills High press box at Tom Fisher Field in Bulldog Stadium has been named the First-Ryman Press Box.
The two men have relinquished their volunteer duties this season, after serving for some four decades.
The dedication ceremony was organized by Zephyrhills High principal Dr. Christina Stanley and athletic director Bruce Cimorelli.
The ceremony followed official approval of the honor by the Pasco County School Board, which happened during a board meeting in August.
Besides receiving plaques during the press box ceremony, the duo also basked in appreciation from family, friends and fans during the ceremony at the field.
The press box now dons the volunteers’ names in large black font with an orange backdrop — the school’s signature colors. Zephyrhills students designed and painted the press box’s new look.
First and Ryman — both Zephyrhills High graduates — expressed gratitude for the school’s gesture, during a later interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
“It’s an honor,” said Ryman, owner of 3R Garage Door Company in Zephyrhills.
“It’s very humbling to see your name up there,” said First, who was the public relations director for OneBlood and Dade City Hospital. “That’s a legacy for us, you know what I mean, and we couldn’t be happier.’
First continued, “It’s never really been about us, because it’s really about the community, it’s really all about the school. There’s so many pieces to this puzzle, we’re just a small part of it.”
As a part of the action for so long, First and Ryman were in on many highs, some lows and countless unforgettable occurrences.
There was a playoff game where the Bulldogs’ opponent — Bartow High — was given five downs and ultimately won on the game’s last play.
There was a game when a referee gave First a penalty flag after he inadvertently bemoaned a referee’s questionable call on the field under a hot mic.
There were the numerous highlight-reel plays of All-American defensive lineman Ryan Pickett from 1994 to 1997, who would go onto enjoy a 13-year NFL career and win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2011.
“We need to write a book,” First said. “There’s so many memories over the years that you really could write a book.”
Their duties and dedication were easier said than done.
Year in and year out, the duo built their respective Friday nights in football season around Bulldog football.
First had to be locked in on all aspects of the game, taking cues from spotters and properly pronouncing players’ names on a particular offensive or defensive play, all while peppering in various school announcements and sponsorships throughout the game, as his voice was heard by everyone from the stadium’s booming sound speakers.
He became so adept that the school’s athletic director didn’t bother giving him a script. He knew what he had to do.
“From the very beginning when the Bulldogs come on the field — to the opening ceremonies and the pledge — there’s a lot of things happening,” First explained.
Ryman, meanwhile, had to pay rapt attention to the game’s head official, monitoring various starts and stoppages in action and other game situations, while simultaneously following specific clock and scoring procedures.
Complicating matters — the crowded press box had people steadily filing in and out, and asking questions or making requests.
“I have to keep an eye on the white hat for what’s happening as far as starting and stopping and the whole nine yards, and people are coming up there (to the press box),” Ryman said. “There’ve been times where I’ve had to say, ‘Not now, I can’t do this, I’m busy, I’ve got to pay attention.’”
All told, First and Ryman have relished their tenures at the center of the action, lifted above the stands at the 50-yard line.
Although they were volunteers, First and Ryman quipped they did get paid over the years — in the form of hearty ballpark meals and snacks, like hamburgers, hot dogs and boiled peanuts.
Plus, Zephyrhills generally has had a strong football program, year in and year out.
“I can say, over our 35-plus years, we’ve done a lot more laughing and high-fiving than we did crying up there,” Ryman said. “But we had some lean years where we were like, ‘Holy moly.’ But the majority of them were fun and good.”
The two men had considered stepping away from their positions for the last few years, but didn’t make it official until this season.
Now, teacher Justin Santiago is doing play-by-play and teacher Will Terranova is handling the scoreboard duties.
First and Ryman still plan to enjoy Friday nights at Bulldog stadium, albeit from a different vantage point.
They did that on the night they were honored, with the Bulldogs trouncing Weeki Wachee, 48-0.
“It was a little weird, watching everything from down in the end zone instead of up in the press box,” said Ryman, chuckling.
The two are bullish on the team’s prospects.
“This could be a year that they go all the way,” First said. “We hope that every year, we’ve been hoping it every year.”
Published October 20, 2021