Re­birth of Sports at Florida South­West­ern

Col­lege again has ath­letic depart­ment, brand-new arena

Gulf & Main - - News - BY GLENN MILLER

BOUNC­ING BACK Florida South­West­ern State Col­lege re­turns to even more col­le­giate ath­letic di­vi­sions with its striking $27 million Sun­coast Credit Union Arena, a new era for the school that dates to the for­mer Edi­son Ju­nior Col­lege in Fort My­ers.

Sounds that once punc­tu­ated life for Florida South­West­ern State Col­lege stu­dents are back af­ter a long ab­sence. From the ping of bats on a base­ball and the swish of bas­ket­balls through nets and the squeak of sneak­ers on hard­wood floors to the calls by um­pires and ref­er­ees. Safe! Out! Trav­el­ing! Dou­ble drib­ble! So are the roar of crowds and so much more. The school, for­merly known as Edi­son State Col­lege, launched a re­born ath­let­ics pro­gram last Jan­uary with base­ball and soft­ball teams based at City of Palms Park in Fort My­ers. The pro­gram kicked into even higher gear in early Novem­ber when men’s and women’s bas­ket­ball teams started play­ing home games in the new Sun­coast Credit Union Arena on the south Fort My­ers cam­pus.

As arena con­struc­tion pro­ceeded, many passersby didn’t know what was reach­ing to­ward the sky. “You heard any­thing,” FSW ath­letic di­rec­tor Carl McAloose says. He was even asked: “Is it a foot­ball sta­dium?”

No, but that wasn’t a bad guess. The 3,300-seat, $27 million arena is now also home to the City of Palms Bas­ket­ball Clas­sic, one of the na­tion’s premier high school tour­na­ments. The tour­na­ment had pre­vi­ously been played at Bishop Verot High School. The arena will also even­tu­ally be home to FSW’s vol­ley­ball team.

What was an empty patch is now Sun­coast Credit Union Arena, a place of swishes and dunks and a new era of ath­let­ics for an old school.

From what had been es­sen­tially just a patch of hot as­phalt, in the spring of 2015 con­struc­tion crews be­gan cre­at­ing a dis­tinc­tive build­ing un­like any­thing in its neigh­bor­hood. It now stands gleam­ing and await­ing count­less mem­o­ries, dunks and jump shots and con­certs and grad­u­a­tions and more.

It’s all part of a new ath­letic era for the school, which started life more than half a cen­tury ago as Edi­son Ju­nior Col­lege. It fielded sports teams from 1963 to 1997, when the ath­letic depart­ment was closed. Edi­son ac­tu­ally dates to the 1940s, when the Thomas A. Edi­son State Col­lege opened in down­town Fort My­ers, re­lo­cat­ing to the bar­racks of the for­mer Buck­ing­ham Army Air­field. It closed in 1948. The new Edi­son Ju­nior Col­lege opened in 1962. Stu­dent fees in the first year were $70 per se­mes­ter. The ath­letic teams evolved from in­tra­mu­ral sports to an in­ter­col­le­giate bas­ket­ball team in the 1963-64 year, un­der Edi­son’s first ath­letic di­rec­tor, Tom Garcia. Ath­letic teams were the Buc­ca­neers in blue and white. Base­ball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s ten­nis, wrestling, soft­ball and vol­ley­ball teams com­peted. Edi­son teams claimed suc­cesses, in­clud­ing the South­ern Con­fer­ence Cham­pi­onship for men’s bas­ket­ball un­der long-serv­ing coach Hugh Thim­lar.

Now, it’s back in ath­let­ics, par­tic­i­pat­ing in ju­nior col­lege sports. When the school re­vived ath­let­ics it also brought back the Bucs. The arena has been a re­cruit­ing boon for bas­ket­ball

“About 99.9 per­cent of peo­ple in bas­ket­ball say they can’t be­lieve it’s a ju­nior col­lege arena.” —FSW men’s bas­ket­ball coach Marty Richter

coaches Marty Richter and Kristi Ward. “It’s a cre­ated a wow fac­tor,” says Ward, who is coach­ing the women’s team.

Ward says she at times handed re­cruits a hard­hat and safety vest and walked them over to the arena as work pro­ceeded. “This is where you’ll walk out,” Ward told them, en­vi­sion­ing what the place would look like on game days. Very few ju­nior col­lege pro­grams any­where boast such a spiffy and large and new fa­cil­ity right on cam­pus.

“I’ve had Division I coaches say they can’t be­lieve it,” says Richter, a for­mer Florida Gulf Coast Uni­ver­sity as­sis­tant coach.

That was also the reaction, Richter says, of many re­cruits and even other peo­ple in­volved in the sport. “About 99.9 per­cent of peo­ple in bas­ket­ball say they can’t be­lieve it’s a ju­nior col­lege arena,” he adds.

But it is. And as Richter re­cruited po­ten­tial play­ers the arena be­came a sell­ing point, along with the school, its at­trac­tive cam­pus and warm Florida weather. “I think it helps that you have an un­be­liev­able fa­cil­ity,” Richter says. “You’ll be the first to ever play in it, the first to ever score in it. It helps that we’re in South­west Florida, and then there’s the in­sti­tu­tion.”

Hav­ing a fine first year of bas­ket­ball in the arena is just one goal, a mere be­gin­ning. “The key thing in all this is you build a foun­da­tion, a cul­ture it can sus­tain,” Richter says. “Not just this year but 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

When he was at FGCU, Richter coached in Alico Arena, a 4,500-seat, 120,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity that opened in 2002. “They’re both un­be­liev­able,” Richter says of the are­nas. “It’s just that this is 15, 16 years newer.”

And home to a new pro­gram, one that doesn’t want to feel ju­nior col­lege. “We’re try­ing to cre­ate a Division 1 at­mos­phere,” McAloose says. And more. “Our goal is to win na­tional cham­pi­onships and grad­u­ate stu­dent/ath­letes,” he adds.

The FSW women’s soft­ball team came close to a na­tional ti­tle in its in­au­gu­ral sea­son, reach­ing the na­tional tour­na­ment, where it lost a 15-in­ning heart­breaker to the even­tual na­tional cham­pion. The base­ball team also earned at­ten­tion. The Bal­ti­more Ori­oles se­lected FSW pitcher Wil­lie Rios in the 16th

round of the Ma­jor League Base­ball draft in June.

That’s a start to the re­vived ath­let­ics pro­gram at FSW. When the school’s bas­ket­ball teams played in the 20th cen­tury, it was in Gre­sham Gym, an on-cam­pus fa­cil­ity that looked like a high school gym and is now used for class­rooms. That was then … Now, the school has a dif­fer­ent name and dif­fer­ent bas­ket­ball home—that spiffy new arena that sprouted right there at the north­west cor­ner of Sum­mer­lin Road and Cy­press Lake Drive.

What was an empty patch is now Sun­coast Credit Union Arena, a place of swishes and dunks and a ne w era of ath­let­ics for an old school.

FSW’s new Sun­coast Credit Union Arena is home to school sports and the City of Palms Bas­ket­ball Clas­sic in December, among other ac­tiv­i­ties sched­uled at the $ 27 million fa­cil­ity in south Fort My­ers.

FSW men’s bas­ket­ball coach Marty Richter ( left) had served as an as­sis­tant with Florida Gulf Coast Uni­ver­sity. Twice named Mid- Florida Con­fer­ence coach of the year, Kristie Ward last led Florida State Col­lege women’s bas­ket­ball, and FSW ath­letic di­rec­tor Carl McAloose had served as AD with Florida Gulf Coast Uni­ver­sity.

Women’s bas­ket­ball started well in Novem­ber with an 85-75 win over Hills­bor­ough Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Fresh­man guard An­thony Mur­phy ( right) is help­ing steer the surg­ing men’s squad.

Coach Richter was fired up af­ter the Bucs won the opener ver­sus ASA Col­lege ( Mi­ami). His team was hot in Novem­ber.

Bucs base­ball last sea­son was led by Suwa­nee, Ge­or­gia, na­tive and first­base­man Ian Kim­brell ( left), New Zealan­der and star pitcher Court­ney Get­tins and Marta Fuentes (be­low), an Or­lando in­fielder hit­ting .405 with 55 stolen bases. Sea­sonal play be­gins in Jan­uary.

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