By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
If the life of the College depended on change, then Athletics may have been Rollins’ liveliest department. Following the announcement of a $57,000 deficit in the 1949 football budget, football was abandoned. All intercollegiate sports were scheduled to be discontinued by Fall Term 1951. When Hugh McKean assumed the position of acting president, all intercollegiate competition was reinstated except football. In 1956, soccer was introduced by President McKean and coached by President McKean. The first season was winless, but the next year saw Rollins garner the state championship. The Tars won their second and third Florida Intercollegiate Championships in 1959 and 1960. The team was honored with several All-State members and, in 1968, Wilson Flohr was named All-South.
President McKean’s administration also saw the reorganization of the existing athletic conferences, as the small colleges attempted to establish some equity in intercollegiate competition. In 1954, a new athletic conference was formed. Eligibility complied with that of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Florida Basketball Conference and the Florida Baseball Conference consisted of Florida State University, the University of Miami, Florida Southern College, Stetson University, and Rollins. Other sports could be—and were—added later. In 1958, the Florida Intercollegiate Conference was created to supervise competition in soccer (F.I.S.C.), basketball (F.I.B.C.), and baseball (also F.I.B.C.). It had six members: the University of Miami, Florida Southern, Stetson, Jacksonville University, the University of Tampa, and Rollins.
By 1964, it had become apparent that the F.I.C. was “a disorganized top-heavy conference that inadvertently discourages competition” (The Sandspur, 1964). Conference members were of vastly differing sizes, played under different rules, and often did not field teams, making meaningful competition impossible. The new conference required N.C.A.A. membership and a minimum of four teams fielded by each member (Stetson, Florida Southern, Florida Presbyterian, Jacksonville University, and Rollins).
Women's Tennis Team, 1962-63
Although attention was focused primarily on the larger team efforts, Rollins sports were also marked by individual performances, notably those of British Women’s Amateur Open winner Marlene Stewart (who played on the men’s golf team), International Water Ski Champion Dick Pope, Jr., and Don “Cannonball” Wilson, National Hydro-Plane Champion.
Rollins women remained the unsung heroines of Tar sports. Although they only competed on the varsity level in tennis and golf, the women’s basketball team played in the Florida state championship and the women’s water ski team retired the Cypress Gardens Intercollegiate Water Ski championship trophy, taking top honors for 18 years.
On the links and on the courts, the Tars were also shining. The golf team, guided by Dan Nyimicz, lost only eight matches in five years, including 32 straight wins. The tennis team also posted consistent victories and succeeded in breaking the University of Miami’s 51-match winning streak in 1952. Rollins alumnus Norm Copeland returned to coach tennis in 1955; the College won its 100th match under his direction in 1964.
Meanwhile, under the hoops
In 1950, a College poll overwhelmingly favored reviving basketball, which had not been played by a Rollins team since before World War II. Despite problems with lack of funds and lack of facilities, Rollins relaunched its basketball team in 1950. The College loaned the athletic department $1800, and the Student Association fee was increased $3.00 to cover the added expense of the winter sport. Jack McDowall, who had retired from coaching and become director of athletics, agreed to coach the team. The freshmen, in turn, rekindled the tradition of bonfire-building to fuel a pep rally.
Although its record was inglorious, the 1952 team, known as “The Heartbreak Five,” boasted Frank Barker, the state college record holder for most points scored in a single game (50), most free throws in a single game (17), most field goals in a single game (20), and most consecutive free throws (21).
The squad of 1957 might have been called “The Cliffhanger Five,” given their continuously close calls with victory. They lost to Stetson by one point in double overtime, and to Florida Southern by two points in triple overtime. Their final record was 6 wins/15 losses.
The fortunes of the basketball team continued lackluster, although the Tars succeeded in capturing an invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics District Tournament in 1958, won the first Citrus Invitational Tourney in 1959, and placed members on the Florida All-State and N.A.I.A. All-American teams.
In 1962, basketball coach Dan Nyimicz resigned after a 10-year 112-win/155-loss record. One player commented, “There’s such a de-emphasis on basketball that they might as well get rid of it altogether.” The man who came to Rollins to replace Nyimicz was Boyd Coffie, F.I.C. All-Conference and Rollins alumnus. The scholarship program for athletes was revised to allow prospective players to be considered for their skill instead of financial need. The Enyart-Alumni Field House was open for play in 1968, and the Tars proceeded to post the best basketball season in their history.
And on the diamond
The Tars continued to rack up state baseball championships and, in 1954, were asked to play in the “World Series of Baseball,” the N.C.A.A. college baseball tournament. Rollins was the smallest college ever to be invited to the tournament, and the Tars progressed as far as the finals. Two members of the Rollins team were named All-American: Bill Carey and Connie Mack Butler.
In 1954, Rollins inaugurated Baseball Week, a marathon tournament of visiting college teams. Rollins hosted Ohio State University, Amherst College, the University of North Carolina, Clemson University, and Georgia Tech in the first Baseball Week. The tournament later expanded to two weeks, and even became a part of Fiesta. 1964’s Baseball Week brought baseball greats Stan Musial and Bob Feller to campus. Coach Joe Justice defined the objective of Baseball Week as “an attempted revival of the waning interest in college baseball. At a time when college baseball is fighting not only for prestige, but for survival, this innovation should be a solid step ahead.”
Following in the footsteps of earlier Rollins teams, the Tars took their show on the road in 1966. Playing against the Ecuador National All Stars in exhibition games, Rollins won three of its four contests. Gale Coleman, who won All-American honors in 1968, was characterized as the Sandy Koufax of Ecuador. (The Rollins basketball team, which also made the trip, didn’t fare as well.)
In 1967, at the N.C.A.A. convention, Joe Justice was named College Baseball Coach of the Year. His Rollins record: 381 wins/218 losses.
Rollins Crew practices for the English Royal Henley Regatta, 1963
And in the shell
The Rollins crew pulled out of a slump to recapture both the state championship and the Yankee carpet bag and Confederate flag it had lost to Boston University in 1949. During the 15-year rivalry with B.U., Rollins had only had possession of the bag and flag twice. Although the crew won state championships consistently, it could never earn better than second place in the annual Dad Vail Regatta.
In 1963, funded by an unidentified “friend,” the Tar crew traveled to England to row in the Royal Henley Regatta for the Thames Challenge Cup. Of more than 30 participants, only two other crews were from the U.S. Rollins reached the semi-finals before bowing to the Argosies Rowing Club, and nearly accomplishing a major upset.
U. T. Bradley, Rollins crew coach, known as the “Father of Southern Crew” and the “Father of Florida Rowing,” retired in 1965. In honor of his contributions to the sport, “Brad” was named to the Crew Hall of Fame—the first small college coach ever elected.