A sold out Amway Center in Orlando was the scene as the Florida Sports Hall of Fame (FSHOF) enshrined 10 new members to its ranks on Nov. 12, including Pat Williams—the man widely credited with bringing major league sports to Orlando.
“Without question, the Amway Center was the most fitting place to welcome this class that included both Pat Williams and former Magic player Nick Anderson,” outgoing FSHOF President Barry Smith said. “Without Pat Williams there would be no Amway Center, there would be no Orlando Magic and in all reality there would be no professional sports in Orlando.”
Williams, who spearheaded the effort in 1989 to convince the NBA that Orlando was indeed a viable expansion city, would then spend the next 30 years serving the organization in various roles — including General Manager and Vice President. He was voted one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history.
Anderson was the first draft pick in Orlando Magic history and fittingly was the first inductee of the night. He told the crowd of 800 that he was deeply honored and humbled by the honor. He also thanked Williams and other Magic officials for making Orlando his home.
The Hall then honored David Little, posthumously inducting the former Florida Gator All-American and Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker. His son, David Little Jr., accepted the honor. “My father was the backbone of our family,” he said. “He guided us, protected us, and taught us.”
Former Florida Citrus Sports Executive Director Chuck Rohe was inducted for his 20-plus years of service to that organization, where he elevated a relatively minor bowl game to a highly coveted post-season destination, earning the moniker “Best Bowl Trip in America.”
Under Rohe, Florida Citrus Sports championed stadium expansion, brought NFL preseason and “big-time” neutral site games to Orlando, created a “Big 10- SEC” tie-in to the bowl game, and founded the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation, which benefits the disadvantaged and under-served youth of Central Florida.
Rohe thanked his staff for making the accomplishments possible and noted his famous office motto of “If better is possible, then good is never good enough.”
Former Tampa Bay Rowdies and UCF (then Florida Technological University) soccer star Winston DuBose recalled that he jokingly asked Smith “If he had the right number” when he was notified of his selection.
Winston said he was proud to be considered one of the early pioneers of lifting the popularity of American professional soccer when recalling his days with the Rowdies and the United States National Soccer Team.
LPGA legend and Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam used her induction time to speak on the importance of sports in society and how it teaches “how to handle failure.”
She noted how that as a shy young player she would sometimes miss putts and lose on purpose because she wanted to avoid the attention winners received, but would later learn the importance of always doing one’s best.
She added that she was able to accomplish everything she ever wanted to do in professional golf as a player and that led to her retirement at a relatively young age. “I wanted to start a family and I wanted to work on my foundation to help young players around the world,” Sorenstam said.
One of only 47 NCAA baseball coaches to win 1000 games, Stetson’s Pete Dunn entered the FSHOF, where he joined college baseball coaching legends Ron Fraser and Mike Martin.
Dunn said he was honored to join “two of the greatest coaches in college baseball history.” He also spoke of how proud he was that Stetson has produced “Cy Young winners and all-stars like Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom.”
Former Florida Southern College Volleyball coach Lois Webb won more than 700 games in her storied career but also coached basketball and golf and later served as that school’s athletic director.
She noted that former Athletic Director Hal Smeltzy, another member of the FSHOF, was hugely interested in increasing athletic opportunities for women but the school lacked financial resources. “When Hal asked me to also coach basketball and later golf in addition to volleyball, it was a daunting task but I felt that If I didn’t do it, who would?” Webb said.
Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke told the crowd of his decision to turn down a scholarship at Florida State in order to sign a professional baseball contract. “I’m not stupid. I looked around and saw a team with Casey Weldon, Brad Johnson, Charlie Ward and Kenny Felder on it and didn’t see a lot of playing time at quarterback, but when I signed, Coach Bowden promised to hold a scholarship open for me and I was so thankful he did. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Weinke would enroll at FSU as a 26-year-old freshman, would become a three-year starter, lead FSU to a national championship as a junior and win the Heisman as a senior.
Two-time World Series Champion and Altamonte Springs native Jason Varitek accepted his induction by insisting that his Little League coach Jay Williams and his college coach Jim Morris join him on the stage, thanking both for their helping him “to never accept mediocrity.”
Varitek added that he considered Florida to be his home and “this Award is about being a Floridian”
Prior to the enshrinement, the Hall honored Central Florida youth coach Joe Russell as the organization’s eighth recipient of the “Hewell Family Fame for Fitness Award for his four decades of service to youth sports and also posthumously presented Bert Lacey with its inaugural Founder’s Award.
Next year’s class will be announced next summer and the enshrinement ceremony and ancillary events will be held in south Florida.