When Leo Armbrust got the call that he was being inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame, he wondered if it was a wrong number.
Inducted in the same class with stars such as Hank Aaron and Fred Taylor? Couldn’t be, or so Armbrust thought.
“My initial reaction was one of complete and total surprise,” said Armbrust, a West Palm Beach resident who served as team priest for the University of Miami (1983-1996) as well as for the Dallas Cowboys (1993-94) and Dolphins (1996-2006). “Here I am going in with some of the greatest athletes in their particular field and I wasn’t even on the field.”
True, Armbrust never hit home runs like Aaron or ran for touchdowns like Taylor. But Armbrust, who is being honored as a contributor, made an impact in ways his fellow inductees could not approach.
Armbrust served as confidant, counselor and trusted friend to countless Hurricanes, Cowboys and Dolphins. He introduced Jim Kelly to his wife, Jill. He officiated at the weddings of Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey. He baptized Alonzo Highsmith and his two sons, including current UM quarterback A.J. Highsmith. Armbrust also had the sad duty of presiding over the funerals of former UM players Derwin Jones, Shane Curry and Jerome Brown.
“The greatest level of compensation for me has been the relationships I’ve been able to forge,” said Armbrust, 59.
After 31 years, Armbrust left the priesthood last May so he could devote himself to Vita Nova, an organization in West Palm Beach that helps young people who have “aged out” of foster care gain the life skills necessary for independence.
Armbrust, still known as “Father Leo” around UM, remains close to many of the players and coaches with whom he once worked. Asked if they ever requested divine inspiration on the sideline, Armbrust said, “My response was always, ‘I’m in sales, not management.’ “