An early love of athletics and a professional devotion to education mark Willie Speed as a prime example of a dedicated leader and mentor.
A native of Eaton Park, Fla., Speed was a four-year letterman in basketball at Lakeland’s Rochelle High School. He was a captain of the Bethune-Cookman College football team and played guard and tackle from 1954-58, and spent two years on the track team throwing the shot put and discus. He graduated in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and later obtained a master’s degree in education from Rollins College.
Speed spent his first professional years as an elementary school teacher before taking a position as football coach and athletic director at his alma mater, Rochelle, in 1962, and stayed for seven years. He then moved to Kathleen High School as assistant business manager and assistant coach. Within five years, Speed became an assistant principal; in 1978, he became the principal, a position he held until 1991. He moved up to the county office as a disaster administrator and a brief stint as acting deputy superintendent before his retirement in 1997.
During his time as principal of Kathleen, Speed represented Polk County on the Executive Board of the FHSAA and was the District IX leader. He served on the championship committee for Lakeland as the host principal for the FHSAA Basketball Finals for 13 years, and was a member of both the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. Speed has received service awards from both the FHSAA and the FIAAA.
Speed is also an active member of the Lakeland community. He has served on the board of directors of several organizations, including the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Boys Club of Lakeland, and was a founding member of the board of directors of the Polk Senior Games. Speed was instrumental in the naming of Lakeland as an All-American City in 1971 and was featured in Look magazine. He currently serves as the volunteer coordinator for FHSAA Finals events held in Lakeland.
Speed was inducted into the Kathleen High School Hall of Fame in 2005, and the school gymnasium is named for him. He lives in Lakeland with his family.