Exit 181. You ever heard of it? You may have unknowingly driven passed it on your road trips out of state but don’t worry, you are not to blame. This 8 square mile patch of land in Florida’s panhandle plays host to 7, 952 residents and could fit inside the city of Tallahassee thirteen times over.
But don’t let its small size fool you, Quincy, Fla. has a reputation of claiming the spotlight.
In 1993, Quincy was named an “All-American City” by the National Civic League. Its reputation of having citizens who “work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results” is what won them the award. This is no surprise considering its history.
The city is named after John Quincy Adams, America’s 6th president and also the man credited with ending the War of 1812 through being able to peacefully negotiate the Treaty of Ghent.
As time passed the city began to naturally embody the innovative characteristics of J. Quincy Adams himself.
In 1828, Governor William Duval introduced Cuban tobacco to Quincy which was later blended with Virginia tobacco to make one of the most unique and sought-after hybrids in the United States. This led to farmers from New York, moving down to purchase land in order to have access to this rare product.
Now-a-days, Quincy, Fla. has stopped producing tobacco and now produces a slightly different good, professional football players.
One being Leroy Smith.
Who Is Leroy Smith?
Born December 26th, 1981, Leroy Smith is the true definition of a hometown hero.
While at the then Shanks High School, Smith rewrote the record books. He set the record for most interceptions with 16 and five of them coming in his senior year. While he was an all-star player, football wasn’t always his top sport.
“Baseball was my best sport, but I stopped playing because it was a clash between track and baseball,” said Smith.
As a track athlete he made it to the state finals all four years and was a three-time state championship meet qualifier in the 400-meter run, but that’s not all. He also played basketball where his talents lead him to play with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). With assistance from the then mayor of Quincy, Keith Dowdell, he was ultimately presented with the opportunity to play collegiate ball for Delaware State University. But Smith decided against pursuing a basketball career and focused on football instead.
In his senior year, Smith continued his top play which earned him a scholarship from Clemson University. Smith remained committed to Clemson throughout his senior year until the “last minute” when he surprisingly decided that he would be attending Florida State University; a decision that may have disgruntled many but allowed him to stay close to home.
While studying sociology at Florida State, Leroy Smith was a break-out cornerback by his junior year and although he went undrafted, he was later picked up by the Chicago Bears where he spent one season.
After bouncing around a few football leagues, Smith ultimately came back to where it all started: Quincy, Fla.
This is where Smith’s true passion was able to flourish.
After dedicating his life thus far to athletics, Smith has returned to Shanks Middle School–formerly Shanks High School— as a history teacher and a mentor to the local youth. When asked “why Shanks,” he had this to say.
“I knew there was a need,” said Smith. “I feel as though it is my purpose. It is one of the purposes I have in life, God put it on my heart. By me coming from here, I know the struggles, I know what it’s like not to be exposed.”
The American Counseling Association (ACA) estimates “that about 75% of children with emotional and behavioral disorders do not receive specialty mental health services,” which is what makes what Smith is doing so important.
Leroy Smith has been running his non-profit for the past six years called “Diamonds in the Rough.” Their mission is to ‘Use sports and education to develop and cultivate a healthy and safe lifestyle and positive work ethic amongst our youth.’
College friend, Maurice Johnson, had this to say about Smith’s progress.
“I always feel like it’s a good thing when athletes return to their respective hometowns to mentor the youth. It gives the kids a practical example to follow, whether it’s athletics or academics. It gives them a sense of ‘Man, I can do this too.”
Along with teaching history, Smith is the coach of the middle school’s football team which the majority of his mentees play for. The motto for the organization is WIN-WIN: ‘When you find out What’s Important Now Work Is Necessary,’ and they have been winning both on the field and in the classroom.
Tallahassee Democrat’s Brian Miller has referred to Gadsden County as “a breeding ground for success.”
his season Shanks Middle School football team boasted the record of eight and one with six of those wins being shutouts, scoring a total of 238 points to their opponents’ 36. An even more impressive statistic is that 81 percent of the program members scored higher or maintained a GPA of 2.0 for the first nine weeks of the 2016-’17 academic school year.
According to The ACA “Counseling decreases classroom disturbances. Counseling services support teachers in the classroom and enable teachers to provide quality instruction designed to assist students in achieving high standards. Students in schools that provide counseling services indicated that their classes were less likely to be interrupted by other students and that their peers behaved better in school.”
“I’m trying to get these kids to open their eyes and believe that they can be great and the only way to do that is to show them and make them see for themselves that they can make it if they make the right decisions,” said Smith.
Diamonds in the Rough also host annual summer camps for football players and cheerleaders where kids from the age of 4 to fourteen can sign up to spend time with and learn from current/former professional players, college athletes and much more. While the camp has a focus on athletics, Smith says that the ultimate goal is to “build character.”