At 51 years old, Bob Carroll Jr.’s hair is beginning to turn white, but there is no hint of slowing in his step. Mustachioed, with glasses and wavy hair, Carroll is of average height and build, but has an indescribable presence that makes him seem larger.
As director of the Department of Campus Recreation here at FAMU, Carroll organizes and promotes an intramural program that encompasses various sports; he remains active and physically fit; and he is overseeing the construction of a 40,000 square foot recreation facility on the western side of campus.
Asked to sum Carroll up in one word, his sister, Donna Shell, thinks for only a moment.
“Energetic,” she says. “He’s almost like the Energizer bunny.”
Intramural Director Marvin Green agrees that Carroll’s sense of purpose is his most memorable quality. He uses another word to describe it: “Driven.”
“He doesn’t let anything stop him,” Green says.
“One year, we were going to have a basketball tournament,” Green recalls, “but there were no outdoor seats at the venue. There were new goals, new courts, new nets, but no seats.
“The only place there were seats was at the FAMU tennis courts. These were big heavy bleachers that would be tough to move, but Bob was adamant that we were going to get these things. When the day came around to move them, there were several of us there and we kind of picked them up and set them back down, and Bob said something that always stuck with me. He said, ‘If they built the pyramids, we can move these bleachers.’ That story really, to me, tells a lot about his character.”
Carroll says his energy was something he was born with. He says he got much of his work ethic from his grandparents, who lived in Climax, Ga. Visiting them, Carroll saw how hard they worked to tend the patch of land they had and the few animals they raised there, and it gave him an appreciation for working hard with what you have. Another major source of inspiration for him, especially in athletics, was his coach D.A. Dematteo at Florida High School in Tallahassee.
Carroll says Dematteo was an ex-marine who showed Carroll how to get the most out of himself.
“He told me, ‘I’ll always keep you out of your comfort zone,’ ” Carroll recalls.
Carroll credits Dematteo with teaching him to get the maximum potential out of others.
“Coaches spur you on. I like to say they’ll hurt you but they’ll never injure you. They’ll push you so close, but then back away,” Carroll says.
Green echoes this sentiment when describing Carroll.
“He finds a way to get the best out of other people around him,” Green says. “He’s focused, and his focus is recreation.”
Carroll says that he takes the word recreation literally, breaking it down into two words: re-create. He believes that people can constantly improve themselves mentally and physically through physical activity.
His sister remembers that despite the age and gender difference, he tried to interest her in sports.
“I think he helped inspire me in my athletic aspirations. He always believes in pushing you. He will challenge you and push you to your greatest potential.”
Carroll was born in England, while his father was serving in the Air Force. He spent the rest of his youth hop-scotching all over the U.S.
“I think I’ve been to every state but Montana and Washington,” he says.
As he moved around the country, he learned to meet new people and develop friendships by getting a pick-up game going. This process of knocking on doors and getting to know the neighborhood would years later become the motto for the Department of Campus Recreation: “Come and Play.”
He ran track and played football at Florida High in Tallahassee. After high school, he attended college at FAMU, but said that the freedom was more than he could handle.
“My dad said he wouldn’t pay for another ‘F’,” Carroll says. So he joined the Air Force, and in those four years, “The military taught me all the lessons my father was trying to teach me.”
He returned home in 1979 and worked at a couple of different jobs before becoming manager of the FAMU bowling lanes. In 1986, Student Government Association President Reggie Mitchell asked him to put together an intramural program, which was the first step toward his becoming director of campus recreation. He took classes gradually and attained his degree in 1989 at the age of 34. All five of his siblings and his father have graduated from FAMU.
During this entire time, Carroll was already doing what came naturally to him: teaching others about life through sports.
“When I think of Bob Carroll, that’s what I remember most of all: him being there for us, giving us encouragement. He was always instrumental in the neighborhood,” said Robert Brown, who is the recreation program coordinator in the Department of Campus Recreation, and who also grew up next door to Carroll. Brown, 27, remembers that Carroll and his brother Tony always had words of wisdom and guidance for any neighborhood kids.
“He talked to us about making good decisions. He told us to study, to do schoolwork first. His big thing with me was to work hard at athletics so that I could get a scholarship and someone else could pay for my education,” Brown says.
And, of course, he was always interested in a ball game. Brown said Carroll played with them, and always kept them active.
“He played touch football with us, threw the football, played basketball. It’s almost as if he saw us outside and decided to come out and play with us,” Brown recalls.
Brown finds inspiration in the new campus recreation center being erected. Brown sees the center as Carroll’s dream, and admires how Carroll has been able to see it through to completion.
“Its not necessarily about the building,” Brown says. “He had the dream in 1996. How many people hold on and try to fight for something for 10 years through adversity and different administrative forces?”
The blueprint of the building itself is a physical manifestation of Carroll’s attitude and personality. The spacious, open design and congregation areas are designed to allow students to meet and socialize with one another.
“It would be a community builder,” Carroll says. “I see students around campus that don’t have the snazzy car, don’t have the chain, the gold teeth, the wardrobe to be accepted.” Carroll says the recreation center will be a place where those students could be accepted for their physical achievements. “They just need a place where they are told they’re alright, and they’re good at something. It’s all about self-discovery.”
“The building should be a testimonial to us all to live out the dream. He (Carroll) always talks about passion. That’s what I’ve gotten from him,” Brown says.
His passion for his job here at FAMU and his ability to inspire that drive in others has impressed his father.
“Robert was a late bloomer,” Carroll Sr. says. “He was the oldest of our six children and the last to graduate college. I often criticized him for not seeing things through. He would start one thing and jump to another; he needed encouragement.”
But, Carroll Sr. says, his son was always a bright kid, and when he took the job with campus recreation he had found his calling.
“I am always amazed at how articulate he is. He’s got some great ideas. He’s a very bright guy, and I’m in awe of him sometimes. I think he would make a great motivational speaker.”
Indeed, Carroll says that his goal every day is to make someone happier and stronger, and he always has witty saying or expression on hand to encourage.
“Repetition is the mother of skill,” “You gotta want to fail before you can succeed,” “If you fall seven, get up eight,” and “Practice is class, the game is the test, and sometimes you gotta stay after and do some homework,” are just some examples.
Green, his co-worker for 14 years, agrees that Carroll has a passion for recreation and a desire to help other people.
“He’s been like a father and a brother. Everybody who talks to him feels better at the end of the day. His attitude is contagious.”
Contact Mackenzie Tuberville at email@example.com