Barnett, McGriff among Polk County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023

He may have only made the junior varsity basketball team at Florida Southern – as well as the accounting club – but his support of his alma matter’s sports program as well as other contributions to the sports industry in Polk County has earned Barney Barnett a well-deserved spot in the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame.

Barnett – along with Warner Royals baseball coach Jeff Sikes; Kathleen great, former Gator and NBA player Chris Richard; 2018 World Series MVP Steve Pearce; and Bartow High School basketball coach, Terrence McGriff – will be enshrined as part of the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

The retired Vice Chairman of Publix Super Markets has provided scholarship and contributes to projects benefiting all athletic and club sport programs at the school, while he’s also directly donated to nearly every program the college has. Additionally, both lacrosse teams compete within the Barnett Athletic Complex that bears his name.

More than 10,000 wins

The sixth winningest coach among active NAIA mentors, Jeff Sikes is starting his 40th season at the helm of the Warner Royals baseball program. A graduate of the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Sikes has amassed more than 1,100 wins in 40 years.

Under Coach Sikes, The Royals have made 13 NAIA Regional or Opening Round Appearances. The 2001 version of the Royals won the Southeast Regional Championship, followed that up with a Super Regional Series win and then went on to the 2001 NAIA World Series where they finished 5th. In that 2001 Season Sikes earned NAIA Conference and Regional Coach of the Year honors, along with being named the Florida Diamond Club Coach of the Year for all Divisions of College Baseball in the State of Florida. Warner University has been ranked in the NAIA National Polls in all or part of 15 seasons including a stretch of 10 years from 2000-2009 where they spent all but 6 weeks of the Decade ranked among the Top 25 teams in the Nation. 14 of his former players have gone on to play Professional Baseball with MLB organizations, and 55 players have advanced to be High School, College, or Professional Coaches.

From Kathleen to the Gators, the NBA and beyond

Chris Richard went from Lakeland to Gainesville to Minneapolis, each time playing on a bigger and bigger stage. The former Kathleen Red Devil was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year as well as the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Basketball award winner in 2003. In his four-year career at Kathleen he averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and seven blocked shots per game en route to the Class 4A state championship in 2001. As a key part of two Florida Gators national championship men’s teams and three conference championship teams, he’s in the program’s top 10 for all-time games played and also won the 2007 SEC Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, he played 52 games before signing with the Chicago Bulls for the 2009-10 season. He finished his career playing internationally in China. He returned to Lakeland and started The Rich Kids Project, a nonprofit youth mentoring program, and was awarded the 2014 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award.

World Series MVP is highlight of 13-year MLB Career

After 13 years in Major League Baseball and being named the MVP of the 2018 World Series, Lakeland’s Steve Pearce can add Polk County Sports Hall of Fame member to his resume.

The 2001 Lakeland High School graduate starred at shortstop for the Dreadnaughts and helped them reach the state tournament. After two seasons at Indian River Community College and two seasons with the South Carolina Gamecocks, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005.

Over eight seasons he played for Baltimore, Houston, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston. He finished his career with a .254 career batting average with 91 home runs and 303 RBIs.

His program changed Polk County boys basketball

While he may not have played basketball in high school, when 22-year-old Terrence McGriff interviewed for the job in Bartow, he was a veteran of the Lakeland Fire youth basketball program he had started at age 17. The success of that youth program – which he continued to run while a student at Florida Southern College – soon translated to success on the high school court, first as a JV coach at Kathleen and then to Bartow, as he led the 2010 team to its first state championship in 22 years. While that success continued – 11 district titles and six region titles – no one could question the results when his team earned the first back-to-back championships in post integration Florida boys basketball in 2020 and 2021. He is also the only coach to be named the Florida Dairy Farmers boys basketball coach of the year back-to-back and one of only two coaches to ever win the award more than once.

Besides the Fire youth program, McGriff also took of the reins of the Mosaic Stinger Shootout in 2009. Since then, it has grown to become the premier high school boys basketball event in Central Florida.

An evening to celebrate athletic achievements

Started in 2000, the Polk County All Sports Awards and Hall of Fame honors the athletic achievements of area high schools and colleges, as well as the Lakeland Ledger’s Prep Awards and the induction of members to the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame. Sports Hall of Fame members are chosen by a committee of area journalists, sports contributors and Hall of Fame members.