Football players and coaches in Hillsborough County are well aware of the prestige that comes along with the Guy Toph Award, but few know of the man who created, or the history behind, the award.
By EMILY NIPPS
Published September 3, 2004
TAMPA - No one knows exactly what 29-year-old Guy Toph was thinking when he decided to create a football award and name it after himself. Most who were close to him at the time have either passed away or don't remember. It started, after all, in 1939.
Many who have won the award, especially in the last 10 or 15 years, don't even know what a Guy Toph is exactly. Everyone knows what it stands for, though, which is probably the way Dr. Toph would have liked it.
Believed to be the oldest continuous high school sports award in the country and often described as Hillsborough County's equivalent to college football's Heisman Trophy, the Guy Toph Award has been presented for the last 65 years to football players who excel on the field and in the classroom. Toph, the second orthodontist to open a practice in Tampa, could not have predicted the award would stick for as long as it has.
He presented the award to players until the late 1980s, when his health began to deteriorate and he died in 1990 at 79. Before that, few things brought him him more pleasure than handing the trophy over to a beaming kid and following the player through his college career.
He always joked that he favored linemen over the "candylegs" backs, but he called all winners "my boys" and urged them to attend his alma mater, the University of Florida. It always drew some chuckles, sometimes a few gasps.
"They'd tell him, "You can't do that ... You can't tell him where he should go to college,"' said Toph's son, Joe, who now presents the award every year. "He didn't care. He was pretty old school."
Toph was so old school, in fact, he remembered Plant High when it was a new school.
Toph was the Panthers' first football captain after transferring to the new school from Hillsborough (then spelled "Hillsboro") in 1927. Joe Toph said his father recalled Plant as being "way out in the middle of the woods." Before the Panthers could play their first game, the players were given machetes to chop down the palmettos that covered the ground where Dads Stadium stands.
Toph became Plant's first football captain and in the Panthers' first game he scored a touchdown on a double reverse. He was also Plant's second senior class president, a wrestler and a basketball player and won all-state honors in football before attending Florida.
Toph served as a lieutenant colonel in Burma and India during World War II and married his next-door neighbor and Plant classmate, Marjorie Manucy. He had three children - Rick, Laurie and Joe - who are now in their 50s.
But before Toph had children, he came up with the idea of the Guy Toph Award. When he created the trophy, there were only a handful of schools in Tampa: Hillsborough, Jesuit, Jefferson and Plant (the award was later adjusted to cover all Hillsborough County public schools).
This was also a time when high school athletics ruled, and 17-year-old football players were hailed as hometown heroes. There were no Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The University of Tampa was barely 7 years old, and the University of South Florida was years away. The idea of a hockey team would have been laughable.
The Guy Toph quickly took off as one of the most recognized local sports awards and even during World War II, the trophy presentation made headlines. Although the trophy that sits at Alonso (the school of the last winner, John Forbes) today bears the names of all of the winners, it is not the same trophy that was awarded in 1939. The details are fuzzy, but the original trophy was stolen sometime in the 1950s.
And the award was not without controversy. There have been cries of foul play during the election process, which requires coaches to mail in the names of their top players with the best grades. There have been whispers of racism, which really made Toph mad, said Joe Toph.
Still, Toph followed high school football fanatically, even after his a stroke in 1969 caused other health problems. He began to present the award in his Bayshore Boulevard 17th floor residence, and when he later moved to a nursing home, he presented the award to players there.
"He was always very anxious to know who the winners were," said Wayne Williamson, who won the award in 1955 and later, as county athletic director, assisted Toph in presenting the award. "And he always followed up on where they went to school, what they were doing in college. Up until the last time I saw him, his mind was very, very sharp."