As FGCU athletics commences another exciting year, we continue to have full appreciation of being blessed with an exhilarating opportunity that few will ever have, that of continuing to build a program in its formative stages.
At the same time, due to the fact that we are only in our 16th year as an institution and have relatively few alumni of "giving age," as well as reside in a community still hard hit by the economy, daily challenges abound as we work through trying to grow our financial resources in comparison to our Division I competitors.
In particular, given that our program is barely a decade old and some teams only started six years ago, it is hard to imagine we are not only playing such name schools on a regular basis, but winning our fair share — includes the likes of my alma mater Boston College, Florida, Florida State, Georgetown, Kansas State, Maryland, Marquette, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Rutgers, South Carolina, UCF, UConn, USF, Utah, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Virginia Tech and Xavier just within the past 12 months, as well as many other more than recognizable programs in the years prior.
We have already produced two major leaguers — American League All-Star and Naples resident Chris Sale and Cape Coral Mariner High School product Casey Coleman— a member of the PGA Tour, professional beach volleyballer/USA National team (Estero native Brooke Youngquist Sweat) and have lots more talent in the pipeline, many emanating from our own Southwest Florida communities. However, equally important, we produced a record 3.29 cumulative grade-point average last semester (undergraduate total population was at 3.02) and a collective 5,500-plus community service hours.
Also of significance, last year all of our teams became eligible for the NCAA tournaments and, amid four conference championships (we have now earned 18 in our brief five years in Division I), we had six programs (four teams and two individuals) compete at this highest level, including our softball team knocking off No. 5 Florida to secure our first-ever such postseason victory.
We are greatly appreciative of the tremendous support that so many have already provided to help put FGCU athletics on the proverbial map of successful programs, including those who quickly jumped on our Green and Blue bandwagon during our inception in 2001.
Most especially, our jettison into intercollegiate athletics is thanks to the likes of icons such as the late FGCU President Bill Merwin and Duane Swanson Sr., Ben Hill Griffin III and Carl McAloose, among many other individuals. However, to sustain our positive start for the long run, it is imperative that we generate a wider base of followers to both retain our core group of terrific head coaches (seven of whom have been named Coach of the Year in their sport) and to achieve even loftier milestones. We are not satisfied with just making the NCAA tournaments; we expect to follow softball's lead from last May and make some noise when we are there.
Hence, recent initiatives have included retooling our Eagles Club. In turn, our terrific volunteer Eagles Club Board has committed to enlisting at least 100 new members in this month's membership drive, and we truly hope that we can more than exceed that number in pursuit of finally being able to provide all our teams the NCAA maximum limit in scholarships (currently only four of our 15 programs are at that level) and to reach full staffing levels.
In conclusion, we are truly fortunate to continue to be involved with so many special young people on a daily basis. Yet, our biggest challenge remains being able to demonstrate the capabilities to grow our resource base to make a neat place even better in the years to come. For some this will simply involve an initial step of getting more of our local community to visit what we affectionately refer to as The Nest for the very first time, and witness a campus unlike what most have ever seen.
Hopefully they will get hooked, become repeat attendees, season ticket-holders, and join our growing legion of Eagles Club members! God bless and go Eagles!