Whenever I’ve been asked where I attended college, my response is usually: “I went to a university in Southwest Florida.” The reason, of course, is that it’s much easier than explaining the details of a school almost no one has heard of.
But that’s all changed now.
On Tuesday, someone asked the same question. My answer? “I did my undergrad at Florida Gulf Coast University.”
“Wow. Congratulations,” he responded.
I’ve got to tell you, it felt good.
March Madness indeed
So, if you’re following what’s happening in college basketball, even peripherally, you’ve heard about the FGCU Eagles. In fact, unless you’ve been holed up without TV or Internet access, you have no doubt heard at least some of the buzz.
The Florida Gulf Coast men’s basketball team is the No. 15-seed that slam-dunked their way into the national spotlight after upsetting No. 2-seed Georgetown and taking down No. 7-seed San Diego State, becoming the first 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16.
And did I mention Florida Gulf Coast is only in its second year of NCAA tournament eligibility? The school itself was founded in 1991 and didn’t hold its first class until 1997.
After their first upset, and then their second, the Internet seemed to burst at the seams with talk of FGCU. Headlines on every major news site; videos and memes.
*** Here’s a list I compiled of some of the best and most poignant quotations about FGCU. ***
I read dozens and dozens of articles on this Cinderella story come to life. I began collecting links and was overwhelmed by the magnitude.
FGCU felt the boom, too.
According to figures released by the school, FGCU.edu had 230,985 unique visitors on Monday, while FGCUAthletics.com had 117,113 unique visitors. A month earlier, those totals were 49,143 and 3,856, respectively.
The student bookstore saw a year-over-year increase of $28,550 (521 percent) in women’s apparel sales and $100,246 (686 percent) increase in men’s apparel sales for the period of March 1-25 (via Sports Illustrated).
One of the biggest reasons FGCU became such a sensation was that the team was really fun to watch.
The New York Times described their style as “fun, fast paced, exciting, reckless, like a bunch of grown children coloring outside the lines. They became known for their 3-pointers and dunks, fast-break layups and defensive stops.
And then came Dunk City.
The phrase seemed to originate from the Georgetown game and helped put Fort Myers — now known to many as Dunk City — on the map. And as with many things, social media helped it spread like wildfire.
Florida Gulf Coast; FGCU; Dunk City. These were trending on Twitter and just about everywhere else you turned. The former no-name university now had several names, along with the interest and support of a nation.
The Eagles’ historic success has spawned so much reaction. There have been music videos and celebrity tweets and FGCU apparel every which way.
But the best part of this buzz, to me and to many of my former classmates, is the attention on the university. It’s easy for people who have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast to dismiss it entirely, or — as I read on Twitter — to assume it’s only a school that people who couldn’t get into the University of Florida would attend. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
FGCU was a school that I carefully considered attending and a school that benefited me in myriad ways. I loved it from day one and was always proud of the foundation I was helping build. I helped transform student media on campus; I worked hard to leave it a better place than it was when I first got there. I was inducted into the Student Hall of Fame in 2009, and I couldn’t be prouder of my alma mater.
Jameson Yingling, a former classmate and fellow alum who served as student body vice president for two consecutive years, weighed in on all the madness. He currently lives in neighboring Estero, Fla., so he’s been able to witness the excitement first hand.
Jameson was also one of the student leaders who really pulled for Division I sports — and he was instrumental in helping bring DI sports to the university.
“People used to laugh when I told them where I went to school. It almost got snickers and smirks when they’d ask, ‘Where is that?’ I’d tell them, ‘You just haven’t heard of it yet, but it’s a really outstanding and dynamic school.
Honestly, anywhere you go, it’s all people are talking about. It’s something that was only a dream back then. We talked about the lack of campus spirit and pride. And for those of us in leadership roles, we wanted to cultivate that and make it grow. It’s incredible to see how athletics can do that.
It’s exciting to see how sports can transcend sports and become something greater than the game being played. It has potential to go beyond the game being played and beyond the athletes. It can bring people together — and it’s done that.”
Isaac Roman, another alum who served as student body president for one year, shared his thoughts. He currently lives in San Francisco, Calif., and was also very involved in bringing DI sports to FGCU.
“I’m still getting over the excitement of becoming a Divison I school.
I feel like we’re apart of (this success). At the time we were at FGCU, we were making the hard choices we had to make. We were working toward something, and it paid off in a big really big way. I’m proud of that.
I no longer have to explain to people what FGCU is. Every time I met a new person, I would have to go through an elevator speech of what FGCU is. I’d have to try to build up credibility in two minutes. This has allowed FGCU to speak for itself.
Now I can just say, ‘I’m from FGCU, Dunk City.’
I came to FGCU because I wanted to build something and be somewhere that was new and fresh and exciting and doesn’t have 100 years of history. There was so much potential to have an impact on my life and the community.
I’ve been literally coming home from work and sitting on my news feed just running through every story, liking every comment, commenting. I feel so connected, but in a way also very disconnected.”
The fairytale’s end
Sadly, our Cinderella story came to an end last night as the Florida Gators beat the FGCU Eagles 62-50.
Of course, we’re still proud of our team and grateful for the support we’ve seen pour in. It’s only just the beginning, and it’s exciting to think of what’s next for our burgeoning Southwest Florida university.
I think Andrea McCrary, my good friend and successor at the student newspaper I left behind when I graduated, put it best:
"You know what ‘winning’ is? Going to a university where students aren’t just numbers. I had such a great experience at FGCU because of the professors I had. Each of them inspired me, encouraged me, and pushed me to reach my full potential. … Congratulations to the men’s basketball team, all the athletic teams, the students, the professors, the faculty, and the administration that comprise one of the most unique and wonderful universities in the world."