Prep football: Coconut Bowl trophy to honor broadcaster Joe Klimas

Joe Klimas, center, and Troy Miller announce the St. John Neumann High School football game as Klimas' wife, Barbara, right, watches and records plays last week in Golden Gate.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL, Daily News // Buy this photo

Joe Klimas, center, and Troy Miller announce the St. John Neumann High School football game as Klimas' wife, Barbara, right, watches and records plays last week in Golden Gate.

Naples and Lely high schools announced Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, that the Coconut Bowl Trophy, which goes to the winner of the annual Coconut Bowl between the two schools' football teams, will be renamed the Joe Klimas Trophy in a ceremony prior to the 39th meeting between the schools on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.

Courtesy photo

Naples and Lely high schools announced Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, that the Coconut Bowl Trophy, which goes to the winner of the annual Coconut Bowl between the two schools' football teams, will be renamed the Joe Klimas Trophy in a ceremony prior to the 39th meeting between the schools on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.

— Southwest Florida broadcasting legend Joe Klimas has been at every Coconut Bowl in the past, and now he'll be associated with every game in the future.

Klimas called the first matchup between Naples High and Lely on the radio in 1974 and was in the broadcast booth for every game since. His long battle with lung cancer forced Klimas to retire after last season, but he planned for this year's Coconut Bowl to his last game on the air.

Though cancer claimed his life Aug. 13, before he could bid farewell to football, Klimas' spirit will be forever intertwined with one of the oldest rivalries in the state. Beginning Friday, the winner of the annual Coconut Bowl will hoist the Joe Klimas Trophy.

"I'm just thrilled," said Barbara Klimas, Joe's wife of nearly 45 years. "Joe would be so honored. We have fond memories of the Coconut Bowl."

Since arriving in 1974, Klimas became a legend in the Southwest Florida sports scene. Many came to know him through his local radio and television broadcasts over the years. Klimas also was involved in many local golf events and charities that raised money for youth programs.

Though Klimas was a jack of all sports, Barbara Klimas said her husband loved football the most. In his 39 years he called games all over the area but will always be linked to Lely. Klimas' first broadcast was the Trojans' game in Key West in 1974.

The Klimas' two daughters, Kerri and Kristi, went to Lely. Kerri graduated in 1987 with current Trojans' head coach Stacey Stewart, who was the starting quarterback for the 1985 and 1986 Coconut Bowls.

"It's a very cool thing naming the trophy after him," Stewart said. "He was a big part of this game. It's good that we can honor him in this way."

Renaming the iconic trophy, which features a coconut that's almost as old as the game itself with leather laces added to look like a football, was first brought up at Klimas' memorial service. Naples athletic director Ernie Modugno said local attorney Jerry Berry, who is married to Klimas' cousin Cathy, suggested the idea.

From there, Modugno spoke to Lely athletic director Matt Kuk and the two approached Gary Brown, a senior administrator at Collier County Public Schools and former principal. The idea also was brought about by Clyde Quinby, Lely's first principal who helped create the Coconut Bowl in 1974.

Everyone involved thought it was an appropriate way to salute the man who did so much for local high school athletes.

"Joe had a hand in a lot of things," Modugno said. "This maintains his legacy. His name will be forever associated with the Coconut Bowl, and it should be."

Since the teams met on Thanksgiving Day in 1974, the year Lely opened and became the second high school in Naples, they've played every year since. Going into its 39th year, the Coconut Bowl is the longest continuous rivalry in Collier County. According to a press release sent out jointly by Naples and Lely, the game is the third-longest continuous rivalry in the state.

Barbara Klimas will be at Lely on Friday for a pregame ceremony christening the newly named Joe Klimas Trophy. It's appropriate since Barbara Klimas was in the booth with her husband every Friday night the past 20 years keeping statistics for the radio broadcasts.

Friday will be a night of honoring the Trojans' past. Also before the game Lely will pay tribute to the late Merv Ward, who coached the football team for 14 years in parts of three decades, and longtime supporter Ron Haar, who worked on the first-down chain crew many Friday nights.

"Joe loved all sports, but football was by far his favorite," Barbara Klimas said. "He always got so psyched at the end of summer he could hardly stand it. He couldn't wait for football.

"This is pretty special. It really means a lot. Naples and Lely are the oldest schools in town. It's just so cool that the two schools decided to do this."

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