TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Standing in front of a packed house in a ballroom at the Donald L. Tucker Center, and flanked by a display of championship trophies, Vanessa Fuchs, Florida State’s senior associate AD and senior woman administrator, smiled and said that the stars had aligned for Florida State’s year-long celebration of 50 years of women’s intercollegiate athletics.
No one in attendance – not President John Thrasher, nor interim athletics director David Coburn, nor Dr. Billie Jones, one of the trailblazers for women’s athletics at FSU – would argue.
When Florida State softball won the 2018 Women’s College World Series championship last summer, it marked the unofficial kickoff for Florida State’s “Golden Anniversary” commemoration. A national championship in soccer, earned a few months later, was one more sign that the Seminoles were in the midst of something special.
And Saturday’s Garnet and Golden Finale served as the closing ceremony.
In front of a packed house of university leaders, coaches, administrators, current and former student-athletes and Seminole Boosters, FSU celebrated a virtually unprecedented run of success in women’s athletics:
National titles in softball and soccer, an NCAA tournament run in basketball, and current top-10 rankings in softball, golf, tennis, track and field, and beach volleyball.
“We sure couldn’t have picked better timing for the 50th year to roll around,” Thrasher said.
“Obviously we had a lot to celebrate,” Fuchs added. “Because our women have just been absolutely crushing it this year. It’s been so much fun to see the success. The stars aligned. That’s what made it extra special today.”
And for all their on-field success, the Seminoles on Saturday celebrated a big off-the-field win, too.
When Seminole Boosters announced its $100 million Unconquered fundraising campaign last fall, they included a goal of $5 million to be earmarked exclusively for women’s athletics.
During Saturday’s ceremony, Nylah Thompson, co-chair of the Unconquered Campaign, revealed that FSU’s fundraising efforts have already eclipsed that $5 million goal.
More accurately, they’ve blown it away.
In the span of a little more than eight months, Florida State has raised more than $7.2 million in new support for women’s athletics.
“The success of this campaign,” Thrasher said, “underscores my belief that there are very, very few schools – if any in the country – where the history of women’s intercollegiate athletics is beloved as it is at Florida State University.”
“Women’s sports mean a lot to this university,” added FSU beach volleyball coach Brooke Niles, who served alongside sophomore standout Madison Fitzpatrick as the event’s co-emcee.
“We’ve always had a lot of support, but the fact that more people are coming out to support us even more, and we’re having all these events, I think it’s really good for our female student-athletes.”
Both past and present.
Amy Bond, FSU’s women’s golf coach since 2010, knows as well as anyone how much women’s athletics have grown over the last 25 years.
She played golf at Florida State from 1994-1999, served as an assistant at her alma mater from 2001-06 and took over as head coach nine years ago.
Along the way, she’s built one of the country’s top programs and earned 2017 ACC coach of the year honors.
“I was part of the 30th (celebration) when I was a student-athlete,” Bond said. “And to see the 50th, and see all the people that have come out, it’s great. Because our players have no idea what used to happen back in the day. That people had to furnish their own uniforms and drive to places, things like that.
“So, I think it’s great for them to see the history, see how far we’ve come, but also see what we started with and where we are now – with a hugely successful women’s athletics program.”
And the current student-athletes in attendance got a first-hand look at an FSU pioneer when Darby Cottle Veazey, perhaps the greatest softball player in school history, accepted her honor as a “Champion Beyond the Game” for her work in the insurance field.
During a brief speech, Veazey, a 1988 FSU Athletics Hall-of-Famer, recalled her memories at FSU, and how the relationships with her teammates and coaches have continued to flourish since her graduation in 1982.
And she shared a personal story about how those same teammates – as well as then-new FSU softball coach Lonni Alameda, whom Veazey hadn’t yet met – rallied around her and her family when her son, Chance was severely injured in an auto accident in 2009.
“We want to try to reconnect these alumni, reconnect them with their teammates, help them kind of remember their experience and encourage them to keep coming back,” Fuchs said. “Because they’re obviously a special part of our Seminole family.”
That word – “family” – came up a few times on Saturday afternoon.
It did during a video package celebrating the contributions of Russ and Genie Morcom, who were honored as FSU’s Philanthropists of the Year.
And it did again when Niles, a California native and a former beach volleyball pro, spoke about the place of women’s sports at Florida State.
“This whole athletics department really feels like a family,” she said. “We’re all at the football games and the basketball games. And the basketball athletes come out to our beach volleyball games. And it doesn’t matter if they’re men or women, they’re all coming.”