TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After four days of uneasiness and anxiety as Hurricane Irma approached Tallahassee, the Florida State community – including dozens of student-athletes – let out a sigh of relief and gathered Monday night to share dinner and each other’s company at the Dunlap Champions Club inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
More than 4,000 students attended the event, where they were served hamburgers and hot dogs from FSU President John Thrasher, and sodas and desserts from representatives of the Seminoles’ football, men’s basketball and baseball teams.
Although Florida State has been closed since Friday, thousands of students remained on campus to wait out the storm. FSU’s office of student affairs organized the dinner to help those affected by Irma see some smiling faces and enjoy a warm meal.
“It’s a celebration. It really is. And it’s a very successful one,” Thrasher said. “We had over 4,000 kids come, a lot of volunteers and student-athletes. It’s a good day for Florida State.”
With poor weather having mostly left the area by Monday afternoon, the students poured in from across campus with lines extending across the front of the stadium to the University Center A complex around the corner.
Some students donned rain gear while others wore pajamas. One even came in his bathrobe.
When they made it to the Champions Club, the students were granted free reign of the facility and many sat outside in the chair-backed seats overlooking the field.
“This stadium is huge,” one student said to a friend. “I’ve never been in here before.”
Speaking of huge, FSU basketball’s Christ Koumadje, the 7-foot-4 center who, as usual, was the tallest person in the room, was perhaps the easiest-to-spot student-athlete in attendance.
Koumadje posed for pictures with several students, including Michael Murphy, a freshman accounting major from Atlanta.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Murphy said of mingling with the FSU athletes. “Because they don’t do that at a lot of other colleges – it’s separated. But here, they just seem like they’re part of it, too.”
A few feet away, football’s Derrick Nnadi and men’s basketball’s Trent Forrest passed out sodas and snapped photos throughout the evening.
“It’s real cool to kick back, relax. This hurricane has had everybody feeling off, feeling down,” Nnadi said. “This type of thing going on right here, it’s helped everybody get their spirits up.”
Added Forrest: “Getting to interact with a lot of the students, that’s fun. Just getting to know them, getting to help them out while they’re here by themselves.”
— FSU Basketball (@fsuhoops) September 11, 2017
It’s been an unusual few days across FSU athletics.
The football team’s home opener, originally scheduled for Saturday, was cancelled, and next week’s game against Miami was moved to Oct. 7.
And while several teams, including women’s basketball and soccer, evacuated Tallahassee, the football, men’s basketball and baseball teams all remained in town.
Forrest said he and his hoops teammates spent Sunday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center where, despite some flickering lights, they could shoot some baskets and enjoy themselves.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Forrest said. “Nobody really got too stressed out. We knew we would be fine with Coach ‘Ham’ and whatever he had planned for us. It was fine. We all got to bond together.”
While Irma’s worst is over, it may still be a while before things at FSU get back to normal.
The university remains closed for the rest of the week, and although damage across Tallahassee was minimal when compared with the rest of the state, there are still thousands – including many students – without power in their homes.
So, Sunday’s dinner offered a welcome reprieve from the stress of the storm.
“(There was) a lot of pressure, a lot of anxiety,” Thrasher said. “A lot of these young people had never been through a hurricane. So it’s a great day to celebrate Florida State.”