A “Two Bits” Salute to Teachers

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A crowd of a couple hundred watched Todd Eckstein nearly break down in tears of overwhelming joy last January when Eckstein, the director of instrumental music at Lincoln Middle School, was named Alachua County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year during a ceremony at Trinity United Methodist Church. His acceptance speech was sincere and brimming with gratitude, grace and humility.

It was an emotional moment for the Wisconsin transplant and career educator.

Now let’s see how he does in front of 80,000 or so Sunday.

Eckstein, 47, will share celebrity “Mr. Two Bits” honors when the Gators (2-2) take on Eastern Washington (2-2) in a noon game at Spurrier/Florida Field. Eckstein, the middle school teacher-of-year nominee, will join secondary nominee Kendra Vincent, of Buchholz High, with the invitation extended as the University Athletic Association welcomes thousands of area students and teachers as part of its UF Faculty & Staff Appreciation Day, presented by Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Elementary nominee Nicole Duncan, of Rawlings, was also scheduled to take part, but had to back out after the game was rescheduled to Sunday due to the threat of Hurricane Ian.

As for the pressure to perform before that crowd?

“I told a few of my booster friends this was going to happen and they were all stunned and even a little bit jealous,” Eckstein said. “They actually asked me about being nervous. I laughed. I teach middle-school kids. I’m not worried about 80,000 fans.”

In addition to Alachua County Public School students, the UF-EWU game will also host students from around the state who were selected for the inaugural Stars of Honor program which recognizes outstanding achievements both inside and outside the classroom.

Consider that another reason for Eckstein not to be fearful of the crowd (not that he would be), though he was admittedly taken aback when a liaison of the county in charge of recruiting volunteers approached him with this rather unique invitation.

“It’s something I never would have thought about in a billion years,” he said. 

Percussion class V2Ym3
Todd Eckstein (left), the 2022 Alachua County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year, in action with his Lincoln Middle School drumline class.

Eckstein graduated from Wisconsin-Stevens Points and came south in 2001 to do his master’s work at Florida State. He began teaching in Alachua County in 2007 and, yes, while his ties to the Seminoles admittedly remain strong with football, he claims to be a rabid UF basketball and baseball fan.

He knows all about the pregame chant made famous by the late George Edmondson and knows how much it’s revered by the Florida fan base. His rendition to be along the traditional lines and likely minus any personal spinoff.

The Fighting Gator March Band will take care of the musical instruments on the field.

“All I want to do is pay homage and tribute to the original Mr. Two Bits,” Eckstein said.

Look for the crowd to reciprocate the homage and tribute to Eckstein and his amazing colleagues, a salute that will be directed to every teacher in the stadium — and beyond.

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