The Final Bell

After nearly four decades in the Plant community, teacher Alan Bell retires this month

Chloe-Amelie Aikman, Features Editor

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Alan Bell’s wall is a self-curated yearbook come to life.

Glossy black-and-white, sepia and colored photos paper the space, each carefully tacked in a mosaic spanning generations of students. Some hold the faces of his days playing high school football. Most are from his days coaching it, bright with the gloss of helmets and full of the printed numbers worn by the players on his field.

Panther Yearbook
Alan Bell graduates from high school, 1975.

“It was my whole world, high school football.” Bell said. “I wanted to do it, and I felt like I knew what I was doing, and I felt like I could be good at this. Everything just kind of fell into place.”

In his time at Plant, Bell would coach football, track and boy’s PE and teach Driver’s Ed.

“He influenced every student that he ever taught, all the way back for 35 years,” said Rick Ferlita, friend of 28 years and math teacher. “He’s sincere. He has given his heart and soul to Plant High School.”

Fresh from Kentucky, Bell was only 7 years old when he first set eyes on Plant from a little Sunday School class tucked in the second floor of the church across the street. He grew up in the shadow of the old brick gym, built after World War II and no longer standing today, where the boys basketball team would practice. When it was his turn to attend Plant, Bell would play as a defensive back on the football team junior year, and by the time he graduated in 1975, he knew he had found something worth staying for.

“I wanted to do it right,” Bell said. “That’s my deal with football.”

At the suggestion of the head coach, Bell studied at the University of South Florida so he could coach junior varsity football out of class – something he would do for five seasons and would lead to his eventual hiring as the boys track coach, boys PE teacher and the assistant football coach.

“Coach Bell was a player’s coach,” said Greg Meyer, former defensive linebacker under Bell and current Broadcast teacher. “[He] was a guy who had a very high football acumen, but his strongest attribute was his ability to relate to players and make them feel welcome.”

Panther Yearbook
Bell doubled as a football coach and teacher, 1986.

Bell coached defense in a variety of positions, but his most memorable times are alongside Plant legend Roland Acosta, the coach for whom the field house is named and a record-holder in Hillsborough County football. A player on Acosta’s team when he claimed his first win and a coach during Acosta’s last in 1994, Bell would continue coaching in his absence until 1997.

“I was there for his first win, his last win, and everything all the way up through it I was able to have a part in,” Bell said. “I’m most thankful for being able to be here with all of his 22 years he was here.”

In the late 1990s, Bell would also become certified in Driver’s Ed and soon find himself teaching the subject.

“He cares about how well the students do,” Driver’s Ed student and sophomore Shelby Davis said. “Especially with Driver’s Ed, if you have a teacher that doesn’t really engage, that doesn’t really care, you’re not going to learn well. He makes it fun in a way that other teachers wouldn’t.”

The number of his students that would grow to become teachers alongside him are counted in the dozens. Former student and current English teacher Jenise Gorman can still vividly recall moments from his class, including when he tapped on her car window on the course one day, stopping to motivate her to try again after getting a cone caught underneath the wheels of her car.

Tegan Fannin
Standing in front of his wall of photos dedicated to students he coached, Bell helps former Driver’s Education student sophomore Veronica Dominguez look for a form needed to earn her license.

“I needed that pressure, I needed someone to push me, and he did that,” Gorman said. “He did it for everyone. He probably doesn’t think about those small moments, but I just remember, still to this day when I back up into the space, I’m thinking about that cone.”

Bell’s career not only spanned more than 35 years, but each day was full. As a coach, late Friday night games, Saturday morning film reviews, evening Sunday staff meetings and all-day track meets were par for the course, so much so that he couldn’t even vote in his first election, as he was deep in football season and didn’t have the opportunity to leave school grounds.

“That’s why these guys, all these coaches out here, they’re the same,” Bell said. “They love it like I did, but they’re sacrificing so much.”

As a teammate, a coach and a mentor, football has always been a big part of Bell’s life. Since leaving the field, Bell still remembers his players fondly, and he frequently tells their stories in class to his students.

“They were very important to me,” Bell said. “It’s thrilling for me to see these guys when I run into them so many years later and see that they’ve landed on their feet. That to me is the most rewarding thing.”

Now in his last month of teaching, Bell will instruct his last class and say goodbye to his students for the final time.

“I think it’s a loss more to future generations,” said Natasha Walker, former student and current English teacher. “I’m watching what I consider the best retire around me.”

Many years have passed since the 7-year-old Bell first arrived. A life was built – from meeting his wife in the parking lot behind the administration building, watching his children grow into adulthood, guiding the generations of athletes that would know him as Coach to the countless safe drivers he made better, Bell’s history is woven into the very bricks of the campus.

“It’s going to be difficult to leave, because this is really all I know,” Bell said. “My whole adult life since age 16 has been here, and I’m 61 now. That’s a long time.”

Caton Gonzalez

When asked, Bell said he plans to head north to be with family. From there, he is uncertain what the future will hold, but he knows what he will carry with him as he leaves.

“What I learned here is the goodness of other human beings,” Bell said. “That’s the main thing I’m going to take when I leave. You see acts of kindness that go unnoticed and nobody will ever know about, and they take place all the time, every day here, and that’s what I’m going to take, when I look at all of it, is the goodness of other human beings.”

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