Sports at Rollins

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70

“Sometimes it pays off to treat people with fairness and respect. Rollins College always has run its athletic programs with that philosophy, and now the Division II college in Winter Park is starting to see the benefits.”

Orlando Sentinel, 1999


Ironically, many of the complexities of Rollins’ athletic program in the years leading up to the College’s Centennial sprang from a bunch of coaches and a bunch of games—new coaches and new games.

In 1971, Joe Justice became director of athletics, and basketball coach Boyd Coffie added coaching baseball to his duties. In 1972, Edwin L. Jucker arrived to assume the positions of basketball coach and chairman of the Physical Education Department. Five years later, Jucker retired from coaching and alumnus Mark Freidinger took responsibility for guiding the basketball team. Justice retired and women’s basketball coach Gloria E. Crosby became director of athletics. When basketball coach Freidinger departed for Northern boards, alumnus Tom Klusman stepped into Freidinger’s hightops.

Following a season filled with controversy, Klusman faced an uncertain future. Students demonstrated in support of the basketball coach and Klusman accepted a conditional contract. Director of Athletics Gloria Crosby resigned and a search committee ultimately selected soccer coach Gordie Howell to take Crosby’s place. Howell was replaced on the soccer field by Mark Dillon, who was in turn replaced by Hugh Beasley.

You could hardly tell the players without a program.

Other “complexities” might have sounded quite familiar to the College’s early coaches. Rollins still found itself addressing the question of amateur vs. professional athletes. Although the hiring of “professionals,” as such, was no longer an issue, the compensation of players through athletic scholarships plagued most schools. Rollins was primarily a member of NCAA Division II, which permitted scholarship awards. A move to Division III, which permitted no such scholarship grants, was possible, but all of the College’s usual rivals competed in Division II. Rollins remained in Division II.

After establishing the Florida Intercollegiate Soccer Conference (FISC) in 1970, a new league was organized in 1975. Rollins, Biscayne College, Florida Southern College, Saint Leo College, Eckerd University, and Rollins’ chief rival, FTU [now UCF], joined to form the Sunshine State Conference (SSC). Five years later, the Conference was faced with the task of selecting a sixth intercollegiate sport in order to remain members of NCAA Division II. The SSC could not decide which sport it preferred.

The nominees were: waterskiing, which required special permission from the NCAA (UCF objected); swimming, for which Rollins now had the Alfond Pool, but not the scholarship funds thought necessary to mount a successful team; and cross country, a sport completely new to Rollins (UCF didn’t object).

And the winner was: cross country, coached in its first two years by Boyd Coffie.

The choice proved to be a happy one, as Rollins’ cross country team took the Conference title its first year out, and woman runner Christy Cave won the Southern regionals to earn a trip to the nationals.

The growing enthusiasm for women’s sports expanded Rollins’ coaching ranks and led to varsity programs in basketball, volleyball, softball, crew, cross country, and soccer. Volleyball coach Peggy Jarnigan’s lady Tars were Division III state champions in 1979, regional champions in 1980, and moved to Division II in 1981. Women’s crew returned to Rollins in 1975 and the co-eds were soon competing in the Dad Vail Regatta. The Sunshine State Conference began adopting women’s sports in 1982. As the percentage of women in Rollins’ enrollment increased, reflecting national college-enrollment trends, maintaining gender equity in sports remained a focus for the NCAA and the College. New varsity sports, such as swimming, were offered for men and women.

By the late 1990s, the Sunshine State Conference had grown to nine members (despite the departure of UCF for a greener gridiron), with an active campaign to add more. The idea of changing conferences was entertained regularly, but the same concerns always arose: Division I conferees typically played football, which was expensive and a threat to gender balance; potential Division III competitors were located outside Florida, which would require extensive travel and missed class time for student-athletes. Rollins remained in the SSC.

Also of ever-continuing interest were proposals to change Rollins’ mascot and the name of its teams. In 1992, The Sandspur ran a campaign to “Trash the Tar.” Ten years later, a Sandspur writer suggested a variety of tongue-in-cheek monikers, including The Geckos (“Around 356,789.5 geckos call Rollins their home, so why wouldn’t we honor them?”). In 2008, it appeared that the beleaguered Tar might find himself 20 leagues under, but a strategic-marketing survey threw the sailor a lifeline. Triumphing over Lakers, Raiders, Ravens, Rays, Suns, and, yes, Foxes, the Tar was rewarded with a makeover.

The building boom that swept the campus at the turn of the 21st century included important new athletic facilities. Dedications of the Bert Martin Tennis Complex, in President Seymour’s final year, and the Harold Alfond Boathouse, in President Bornstein’s first, set the tone for the coming grand slam. The most ambitious undertaking was the extensive expansion of the Enyart-Alumni Field House, a top priority for A.D. Gordie Howell’s successor, Phil Roach. The Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center wrapped new space around the existing competition court, adding a recreational court, fitness center, dance studio, locker rooms, and technology-enhanced classrooms. The first game in the new building was played in late 2000.

In 2003, the Norm Copeland Tennis Stadium, a gift of one of the legendary coach’s players, Duane Ackerman, was dedicated. Cahall-Sandspur Field and Barker Family Stadium were dedicated in 2004. Support from former soccer player Peter Cahall enabled the field to be enlarged to regulation NCAA specifications, while basketball record holder Frank Barker sponsored construction of the stadium. That same year, Rollins and the City of Winter Park joined mitts to create a softball complex at Lake Island Park for use by Rollins’ softball team and local youth. When Roach retired in 2006, his successor, Pennie Parker, inherited a healthy inventory of athletic facilities, but even she would soon be searching for more space—this time for the College’s new lacrosse teams, added to the varsity roster in 2008.

While the new facilities were undeniably stellar, Rollins’ student-athletes remained the true stars—in the classroom as well as on the courts and playing fields. Tars were frequently named Academic All-Americans. Since 2001, student-athletes’ combined GPAs have exceeded 3.0 and six valedictorians have been student-athletes.

Former Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Brian Schmitz, writing about what he called “the Tars’ brainy juggernaut,” chastised the media: “Shame on us. A successful marriage of grade-point averages and scoring averages in these scandalous days of big-time athletics should command more recognition, regardless of division.”

At the same time, Rollins’ teams were racking up across-the-scoreboard recognitions. Since the 1996 inception of the annual National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Sports Directors Cup, which awards points for conference and tournament victories, Rollins has been listed in the top 30 for Division II seven times, most recently in 2009-10. Rollins has also repeatedly won the Sunshine State Conference Men’s and Women’s Mayors’ Cups for combined team performances.

Without a doubt, by any name, a Tar’s a star.

In 1969, The Sandspur claimed, “Of the six major sports at Rollins, tennis, golf, baseball, crew, soccer, and basketball, only in basketball has Rollins been consistently unsuccessful.” How did the six sports fare in the next four decades?

TENNIS. After placing second in the NCAA College Division Championships in 1971, the Tar netters captured the national title in 1972. Coach Norm Copeland inspired his players to a string of SSC titles and frequent competition in the nationals. When Copeland retired in 1993, his teams had played in 27 NCAA tournaments and claimed three national championships, making him the third all-time winningest NCAA tennis coach. Seven Tars won individual titles.

Copeland was followed by Jim Poling, whose team captured the national championship in 2001, as well as two individual titles. (In 1994, NCAA individual tournaments were replaced by ITA/Rolex Small College National Championships.) Poling’s successor, Ron Bohrnstedt has won conference and region coaching titles; Rollins players have repeatedly advanced to NCAA tournaments and won All-American honors.

The women’s team placed second in the National Collegiates in 1970 and 1971, and in the top 10 finishes for the next six years. Coach Ginny Mack, designated one of the top 10 coaches in the U.S. by Tennis Week in 1978, was also named Florida Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Coach of the Year in 1980. She retired in 1986, to be followed by one of her star players, Bev Buckley. Following the program’s move to Division II in 1993, Buckley led her players to three national championship tournaments. In 1997, Christie LeMieux was named NCAA Senior Player of the Year and Rolex National Champion.

GOLF. In 1970, Rollins men won the National Small College Golf Championship, followed by a second-place finish in 1977 and third-place showings in 1994 and 1997. They snagged another national championship in 2002, with Rob Oppenheim named NCAA Division II Player of the Year and Kyle Frakes named Coach of the Year (which he reprised in 2003). Twenty-two Rollins teams have competed in the NCAA tournament since 1970, finishing only once outside the top 10.

Not to be outclubbed, Rollins women golfers picked up the AIAW National Collegiate Golf Championship in 1974 and logged back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992, along with two individual championships for Debbie Pappas, with a repeat for the team in 1994. Paced by Charlotte Campbell, who captured two individual championships and four national Player of the Year awards, the four-year national championship run that began in 2003 turned all eyes on Rollins’ lady linksters. Coach Julie Garner was twice named national Coach of the Year. In 2008, the Tar women reclaimed the championship and logged a new NCAA scoring record.

BASEBALL. In 1971, the Tars saw the finale of Joe Justice’s coaching career: a 482 win-287 loss record. Boyd Coffie, who donned the coach’s cap the following year, would field 586 victories, eight postseason appearances, and a trip to the 1989 Division II College World Series before his retirement in 1991. In 2004, Rollins sluggers bagged multiple Sunshine State Conference titles, including Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, and Coach of the Year; the South Region Championship; and another trip to the College World Series. Current coach Jon Sjogren fielded his 500th victory in 2010.

CREW. The boathouse built for the Rollins crew on Lake Maitland nearly 50 years before was replaced in 1975 by the U.T. Bradley Memorial Boathouse. Helmed by Coach Jim Lyden, the Tar crew earned state titles and captured high places in the annual Dad Vail Regatta. In 1979, the lightweight four won a first place. Ten years after its first trip to the Royal Henley Regatta, Rollins returned, warming up by rowing in Belgium, Spain, and France. The rowers continue to compete nationally and internationally, traveling to such venues as Boston, San Diego, and Seattle, and an encore at Henley. In 2002, Lyden and his family endowed the coach’s position; Shawn Pistor is the first Lyden Family Crew Coach. Pistor’s teams claimed victories at Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association (SIRA) championships in 1999, 2002, and 2005. In 2007, the Bradley Boathouse was expanded to provide additional storage for boats and equipment.

SOCCER. As well as FISC titles and trips to NCAA playoffs, Rollins soccer teams consistently placed players on All-State and All-South teams. In 1978, Tar booter Andy Leeker was named to the NCAA All-American team, a Rollins first. Rollins was ranked one of the top 12 Division II schools nationally in 1982, and both defeated the defending Division II champion and tied the eventual Division II champion in 1984. In 1991, former Tars kicker Keith Buckley took over coaching duties. The Tars advanced to the NCAA round of 16 in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, Daniell Robertson became Rollins’ first three-time soccer All-American. The 2010 team is the first in program history to reach the NCAA Division II national championship match, where they finished as runner-up.

The performance of the women’s soccer squads was less luminous, but in 2008, they broke out, winning the College’s first Sunshine State Conference women’s soccer championship. In 2009, the ladies won both SSC regular season and tournament championships, finishing undefeated for the second straight season. This year, they earned their third consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

AND BASKETBALL. As if to disprove The Sandspur, Rollins basketball teams posted an impressive record which included participation in no fewer than 10 NCAA regional tournaments, a trip to the Elite Eight, and five All-Americans. The 1976 Tars were ranked #1 twice by the NCAA. Coach Tom Klusman, who garnered two Region Coach of the Year Awards from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, celebrated his 500th win in 2008. Even more impressive: all but three of Klusman’s players earned their degrees.

The task of coaching Rollins’ new women’s basketball team had fallen to tennis coach Ginny Mack. The team’s performances were uneven (Rollins failed to floor a team in 1977-78). In 1986, Glenn Wilkes, Jr. became the team’s third coach, launching an era that has seen the Rollins women competing in 11 NCAA post-season tournaments. In 2006, following an undefeated regular season, Wilkes was named NCAA Division II Coach of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Wilkes chalked his 500th win in 2009.

AND LEST WE FORGET, Rollins also landed three national waterski championships and Sunshine State Conference titles in women’s cross country and softball (along with 600 wins for coach Michelle Frew), two sports The Sandspur hadn’t foreseen 40 years ago.

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