Carter’s Corner: Gator Boosters tagged with scholarship endowment dinner

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The experience was eye-opening and exactly as expected at other times. Above all, it has been busy and exciting and demanding and fun and countless other adjectives.

I’m talking about that Gators columnist job.

One day you might have a 350-pound offensive lineman dripping in sweat on your pad; the next day, a little gymnast speaks softly into your recorder. One day listening Steve Spurrier stories, next, hear Todd Goldenfor the first time.

Every team and every sport offers a unique culture to step into.

For more than a decade, the view from here has come from inside one of the most recognizable sports programs in the country. Prior to joining the University Athletic Association, the perspective came primarily from outside professional teams from Tampa Bay and two other college programs, Florida State and USF.

Few things in the world of sports surprise these eyes and ears other than those magic, decisive, deflating moments that happen live. They remain the best part of the job, the reason most of us fell in love with these games in the first place.

To come back Nay’Quan Wright speaks with Gators Boosters Monday night at the annual scholarship dinner. (Photo: Jordan McEndrick/UAA Communication)

Of course, in college athletics, an undercurrent of change has swept through the mainstream over the past few years to create an unknown fascination. The transfer portal is ubiquitous. The NIL era has arrived and is heading somewhere, but no one has yet been able to produce a clear roadmap. The NCAA is looking at many vital issues, including compliance with some high-profile cases.

Did you see how NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert avoided handing the championship trophy to University of Kansas City coach Bill Self – he has a recent history with the compliance officers of the NCAA – Monday night?


When I was an outsider, I wouldn’t have given much thought to an event like Monday night’s Gator Boosters Scholarship Endowment Dinner at the O’Dome, other than maybe dropping a sentence or two in a notebook in the newspaper or on the website. No news, no report. This remains so for most traditional media.

My point of view has been modified by my time at the UAA. I had attended one of the scholarship dinners a few years ago, but the event has grown in size and is now held at the entrance to Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center.

Phil Pharr, a former UF football player who spent his entire professional career with the UAA, is now the executive director of Gator Boosters. Pharr bounced around the room with an extra jump in his stride as the Gators boosters, UAA staff and student-athletes arrived.

“It’s my favorite event of the year,” he said.

The goal of the event is to provide student-athletes and boosters a chance to interact and learn more about each other. Without the financial contributions of boosters, many student-athletes would not have the opportunities they have.

Gators first baseman Kendrick Calilao and gymnast Nya Reed spoke at the event, as did UF athletic director Pharr Scott Stricklin and Jeff Guina senior associate athletic director who oversees the Hawkins Center.

“These boosters impacted our lives in a way that prepared us for life after sports or potential life in a professional environment, Calilao said.

While Calilao and Reed shared their stories with the crowd, other speakers were brief. It was an evening of camaraderie shaded by a common bond: Orange & Blue.

Sitting at a table with Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller and swimmer Katie Mack, I listened to Miller chat with boosters Carmen and Carey Jones of Jessup, Ga. The pair came down for the event and learned of Miller’s recovery after his arm injury, his life as a dog owner, and how he grew up in Lakeland. Once dinner was over, the student-athletes moved from table to table to meet different boosters.

When Gators baseball players Hunter Barco and Josh Rivera pulled over, Carey Jones asked Barco if his sister lived in Fernandina Beach. Barco said yes. Jones told her how one day she noticed his Gators license plate and struck up a conversation while walking her dog. When tennis player Ben Shelton visited, the group asked if his father, the Gators tennis coach Bryan Shelton, could still beat him on the field. Ben said he couldn’t. And when basketball player Jason Jitoboh fell, the group gave him an unofficial vision test. He spent.

I was inspired to move around and meet boosters I had written about but had never encountered. I stopped at the table where former Gators pitcher Dennis Aust and his wife, Karen, were seated. Aust pitched for the Cardinals in the mid-1960s and later became wealthy in business. The Florida Ballpark Launch Lab is named after him.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Karen Aust said. “I wasn’t there during his baseball career, but I love hearing the stories.”

Karen Aust pulled Dennis’ baseball cards out of her purse and showed Golden, recently hired as UF men’s basketball coach.

“You married a baller,” he said.

“You look too young to be a coach,” she said.

A night of friendship and stories and common ground. One night as I was leaving the building, I realized that Pharr was right.

The scholarship endowment dinner is one of the best events of the year and is now a personal favorite. Yes, college athletics is far from perfect, but the vibe tonight hit home.

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