By Bill McGuire
Tropical Storm Alberto may have dumped some rain on the June 12th Torch Lighting Ceremony for the 2006 National Champion Seminole Track and Field Men’s Team, but it could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the crowd assembled at FSU’s University Center. When the rain started to fall, the festivities simply moved from the statue outside the Center to a nearby lobby area, from which the burning spear of “Unconquered” would be clearly visible through the glass doors when lighted later in the ceremony.
An impressive array of past and present athletic and coaching talent, as well as administrative clout, was on hand for the occasion. University President T.K. Wetherell, Athletic Director Dave Hart, Head Track and Field Coach Bob Braman, and National Champion shot putter and Rhodes Scholar Garrett Johnson all gave speeches that, while brief and informal, clearly reflected the pride and the joy of the moment. The biggest cheers were reserved for Johnson and Braman. The great scholar/athlete’s extemporaneous remarks were eloquent, humorous, and heartfelt. Coach Braman later confided that he was glad he had worn long pants, because his knees were shaking so badly from having to follow Garrett’s speech! He needn’t have worried, though, because everyone knew he was THE MAN, the one responsible for putting and keeping the whole thing together, this collective effort that resulted in a National Championship. He could have stood up, cleared his throat, and sat down….and still received a “standing “O”!
One highlight of the evening was the presence of some Seminole greats from yesteryear. Former Track and Field Head Coaches Terry Long and Dick Roberts, who logged a combined total of over thirty years with the team, were on hand to join the celebration. Terry won numerous A.C.C. titles with the Seminoles, coached several athletes to world prominence, and was the person most responsible for securing Coach Braman’s job. In 1980, Dick coached the FSU men’s outdoor track and field squad to 3rd place, their highest N.C.A.A. finish until this year. In addition, he was a visionary leader who worked tirelessly towards his dream of Tallahassee becoming the running Mecca of the South. It was extremely gratifying to see the excitement and pleasure in the eyes of these former coaches as they were photographed holding the National Championship trophy with Coach Braman.
Former Seminole track and field standout Billy Close, brother of Gulf Winds Track Club 2005 Hall of Fame inductee Jesse, was on hand for the occasion. So, too, was Herb Wills, who earned All American honors in both cross country and track while at FSU
The rest of the assembled group was composed mostly of FSU staff and family members associated with the track and field team…coaches, trainers, facilities and publicity folks, etc. In addition, there were those like Eric Smith, John Kalin, and David Yon…members of the local community and track club who have helped the team by volunteering as trainers, meet officials, etc.
The Torch Lighting Ceremony was a unique event…it commemorated a grand achievement in collegiate athletics…a Division 1-A National Championship… and yet the occasion had an informal, almost family, feel to it. There were no chairs or tables for the crowd, which was free to mingle around the lobby. And there was no stage or dais for the featured guests, who simply stood around with everyone else until it was their time to speak. Speeches were delivered from a landing on the staircase leading up from the lobby, without benefit of amplification. And it all seemed to work!
One could walk up to FSU President T.K. Wetherell and chat about his days running for the Seminoles on the “old” university track. Or listen as Dave Hart and Coach Braman introduced various “unsung heroes” in the crowd: assistant coaches, volunteers, academic support people, injured athletes, dedicated athletic department staffers, and others whose combined efforts had much to do with the success of the Seminole Track and Field Team. Or trade stories about the “good old days” with the former coaches and athletes. Or cheer as Associate Athletics Director and all-around good guy Bernie Waxman was acknowledged for achieving the supposedly impossible task of lighting the “Unconquered” torch in the middle of a rainstorm!
It seemed like there was a lot of genuine affection going around the lobby of the University Center on that rainy Monday evening, or maybe it was just that everybody was reflecting the glow that emanates from a winner. But in any case, I came away from the ceremony that night thinking that it indeed takes an entire village to raise a team up to a National Championship level, and I felt happy and privileged to have been a part of the tribal celebration.