Oct. 11, 2004
By Tina Thomas, FSU Sports Information –
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have been fighting back tears all morning long,” Florida State senior softball player Tatiana George said on Sunday, October 3rd as she addressed those in attendance at the 2004 Champions Beyond the Game Brunch.
It was indeed a moving morning as the Committee of Thirty, contributors to women’s athletic scholarships, current female student-athletes and coaches, and athletic and Seminole Boosters administrative staff joined together to pay tribute to Dr. Jo Anne Whitaker and Celia Slater, the 2004 Champions Beyond the Game Brunch honorees.
After remarks from FSU Vice President Lee Hinkle, Director of Athletics Dave Hart and Committee of Thirty chair Cassandra Jenkins, Whitaker and Slater addressed the audience about what it means to be a champion. After impressive introductions from current Florida State student-athletes, each woman told her story and explained how they got where they are today. They combined history with laughter in providing a unique perspective about life after college.
“FSU gave me the opportunity and the good grace to be accepted at Wake Forest medical school,” Dr. Whitaker, a 1948 FSU graduate in microbiology, said. “In 1948, that was a rare chance for a woman to get into medical school and also to stay there.”
Whitaker, who during her college years, was two-time winner of the Florida Amateur Woman’s Golf Association Tournament and was the first woman to play in the Florida Open Championship, has a passion for golf, but it’s not her most important game.
“My lifetime game has always been trying to help people learn how to help themselves,” she said. “I have played most all sports, but golf was my love. It’s the one game and only game I know that one perfect shot can erase a lot of bad ones. My schedule did not allow much time for golf. I’ve devoted my life to helping my fellow men and women through my talents in medicine.”
Currently, Dr. Whitaker is the President and Director of Research for the Bowen Research and Training Institute in Palm Harbor, Florida. Two particular areas of interest are in the effects of Lyme Disease and the use of alternative medicines.
Slater, who began her speech asking the audience to do the Seminole War Chant while she photographed them, told stories about her experiences as a collegiate coach and with Special Olympics. While her examples were quite different as one was humorous and the other emotionally moving, her point was very much the same.
“You don’t have to always be the best, to give your best,” Slater said. “The truth is, I have so many wonderful memories as a player and coach in college, but I also had just a few frustrations and disappointments. So many of those disappointments have led me down the path where I am today. Experience is not what happens to you, but it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
A 1985 FSU graduate of leisure services and studies, Slater was a four-year scholarship letter winner on the women’s basketball team. She is currently the Executive Director of the WinStar Foundation which has two programs – the Coaches Academy and Play with a Purpose. Like Dr. Whitaker, Slater has made giving back a staple in her life.
“Being a champion is really about paying it forward and paying it forward means giving someone else the same support that has been given to you,” Slater said. “It’s about ensuring that the opportunities that you’ve enjoyed as a student-athlete will be there for your daughters and granddaughters. It’s about looking for opportunities to give, instead of asking, what’s in it for me?”
Slater closed with a hope and a plea to everyone, but especially Florida State’s current female student-athletes.
“To all my fellow Seminoles here today, I hope that when you leave, you will look and see the bigger picture of what it means to be a champion and that it is so much more beyond the wins and losses. I invite you to be a valiant fighter, to play with purpose, no matter what the sport is or what the game is. Find a cause or person and be their champion. There are so many people in your lives that need you to cheer them across the finish line and pick them up and celebrate who they are. My hope is that all of you will find your very own special way to pay it forward and honor the Florida State tradition to become a champion beyond the game.”
Several former Seminoles and former Florida State coaches were in attendance to support the honorees and support the Champions Beyond the Game program, which celebrated its sixth year in 2004. Among the guests included women’s basketball’s Sue Galkantas, the all-time leading scorer, male or female, in Florida State basketball history. Galkantas is the central Texas Program Director for Special Olympics Texas.
“I wanted to be here to support Celia Slater,” Galkantas said. “I absolutely thought she deserved this award. I also heard so many wonderful things about Dr. Whitaker. I just find that the women of Florida State have always inspired me to push the envelope and to do more with my life. These women just blow me away. I work with Special Olympics and I think I am doing something good for people and then I look at these women and think, I’ve done nothing.
“I know our current athletes do realize and appreciate what these women have done to lay the foundation, but when you are their age, you don’t realize what you have until you have left the safety and the goodness,” Galkantas continued. “When you go out into the real world, you have to draw back on your experience and realize why you have to persevere and that new challenges are no different than the defender who is standing in front of you as you are trying to go to the goal. I find if I go back to my sports days, I realize anyone who is trying to block me, is just another player.”
The very-motivating event left those who attended feeling a sense of pride and determination.
“We had two great champions and they are doing great things in the community and doing great things to change people’s lives,” Jenkins, the Committee of Thirty chair, said. “Our honorees today were great athletes and are now doing great things in their profession. They are not only impacting people’s lives now but also those who will have an effect on the future generation.
“As we continue the tradition of excellence of women’s athletics at Florida State, it is important for our current student-athletes to see where we’ve come from, understand the history and see where they are helping to build the future. Someday, they will be the history of women’s athletics at Florida State University.”