A legend on the gridiron as both a player and a coach, the man at the helm of the nation’s hottest wrestling program and a broadcaster who has dedicated his life to local sports and information on the airways are just three of this year’s five inductees into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame.
Voted on by a committee of peers and athletic directors from throughout the county, this year’s inductees are:
Brant C. Martin
Brant C. Martin has achieved just about everything possible in amateur golf in the Lakeland area. A Three time 4-Ball Invitational Champion with teammate Mike Schroeder, the pair won in 1972, 1976 and 1983. In 1978, his team from the Imperial Lakes Golf and Country Club Pro-Am was low qualifier for the State of Florida and participated in the National Championship in the Hertz World Golf Hall of Fame Pro-Am Team Championship at Pinehurst, N.C. Individually he was the men’s champion at Grasslands Golf and Country Club in 1992 and 1993, and the Member-Member Champion in 1992, 1993 and 2003.
Martin has also given back to the community via golf by helping to start the Florida Southern College Diamond Club Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament as well as serving as the Chairman of the PGA Tour’s Nike Tour Events and Buy.com events from 1997-2000, benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lakeland, Inc.
Martin is a 1970 graduate of Lakeland High School, a 1972 graduate of Polk Community College, and a 1974 graduate of Florida Southern College.
On the coaching staff of the Florida State Seminoles college football team since 1994, Odell Haggins may have graduated Bartow in 1984 but he never left his hometown behind. An All-American defensive lineman for Florida State, Haggins was selected by San Francisco in the 1990 draft.
He returned to Florida State in 1994 and has coached there ever since, including twice serving as interim head coach with an overall record of 4-2. Officially the associate head coach and defensive line coach since 2014, he was selected for the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.
Haggins is often seen in Polk County high schools, not just recruiting but also mentoring athletes on the importance of class work and clean living on their future as potential college athletes.
Born and raised in Polk County, he was a 1995 graduate of Auburndale High School. Walker started coaching in 1998 at Lake Region High School before becoming the head coach at Lake Gibson High School during the 2001-2002 season.
At Lake Gibson, Walker has coached 11 IBT Team District Championships, four Dual District Championships, four IBT Regional Titles and three Dual Regional Titles. His teams won the 2018, 2019 and 2021 State Dual Championships and the 2018, 2019, and 2020 State IBT Championships. They have won 16 Polk County Championships, 87 State Placers and 13 Individual State Championships.
In 2018 and 2020, he was named the Dairy Farmer Coach of the Year and the 2018 NWCA Coach of the Year.
After excelling at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, Matt Diaz went on to blossom at Florida State, earning both Atlantic Coast Conference All Conference second team honors and Atlantic Coast All-Tournament Team honors in 1998 and Atlantic Coast Conference All Conference first team honors in 1999. Named a first tema All-American by both the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association in 1999, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in that year’s draft.
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, the outfielder from Florida State would go on to play 11 years in the Major Leagues for the Rays, Royals, Braves, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Miami. He became head coach at Lake Christian in 2020, leading the Vikings into the playoffs in 2021.
A part time job in high school led Tom Thornburg to a career in broadcasting.
After graduating from Lake Wales High School, Thornburg continued working at WIPC Radio in Lakes Wales while attending Florida Southern College. A stint in the U.S. Air Force brought Thornburg to Japan, where he worked part-time at a Japanese radio station. It is also where he met and married his wife of 57 years, Susan.
Thornburg returned to the US and WIPC. He went from on-air talent to sales manager and finally general manager. He purchased WPUL in 1984, changing its call letters to WWBF.
At WWBF, he has focused on local sports, including high school football, baseball and softball at Bartow, Fort Meade, Lakeland Christian and Lakes Wales, the Youth Villa Classic Golf Tournament, Dixie Youth World Series Games – including the 2004 World Series from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, while Polk County recovered from Hurricane Charlie – and more.
All of the inductees will enter into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame as part of the Polk County All-Sports Awards event on June 14 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.