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O’DOME MEMORIES

“Aside from the incredible rush of graduation day, I have another special memory of the O’Connell Center that I will never forget: sharing the news of my pregnancy with American Racket, a dance company I have been involved with since my undergraduate years. For the 2012 VISA Talent Show, American Racket was chosen to open for the talent competition. Before walking on stage, I had a secret to share – a life changing secret.  As always, our group was taking pictures and getting pumped up for the performance.  I decided this would be a perfect time to tell my second family and fellow Gators the secret. I stepped out to take just one more picture.  I secretly turned on the video portion of the camera and instead of instructing the group to say “cheese”, I told everyone to say, “Erin’s having a baby!”  The looks on their faces were priceless and I captured their reactions on video! UF campus, my alma mater, has hosted many important memories for me, and I am thrilled that the O’Dome framed this important news-sharing event for my husband and I.  This recent memory is now my top “Go Gator” moment!  Perhaps one day our little girl will continue the tradition of the orange and blue and join the Gator Nation.  Go Gators!”
– Erin Hunter

“In the fall of 1994, the entire freshman class packed into the O’Connell Center for a welcome program. We had just arrived on campus to find that the Gator football team was ranked the preseason No. 1 for the first time. The crowd’s reaction to the news was my first experience with the might of The Gator Nation. It felt like that inflatable roof might just blow off from all of the energy and excitement. I’ve been to countless games and events since then at the O’Dome and beyond, but I’ll never forget the thrill of that night.”
– Alisson Clark (BSJ ’98), Gainesville

“In December 1984, I was just finishing my first semester at UF as a transfer student but my cousin, John Kubler, was graduating. Since Christmas was right around the corner, he told everyone he was going to walk at commencement in the O’Connell Center wearing a Santa Claus suit, but we didn’t think he really would. As we sat watching the soon-to-be graduates file in, though, there he came, resplendent in red duds, a white fake beard and his mortarboard. As he walked across the stage and shook hands with an amused-looking President Marshall Criser, he turned to the microphone on the podium and said “Hi Mom!” The crowd laughed and cheered, and his picture showed up the next day in the Gainesville Sun.”
– Steve Orlando (BA ’86, MAMC ’07) 

“I went to the O’Dome to watch the basketball national championship game in 2006. The place was packed with students, and the energy was high the whole night. Near the end, when it looked like we were about to win, an earthquake hit. Thousands of students were stomping their feet in the bleachers. It was dizzying. I watched three more championships in the O’Dome — another basketball and two football — but none could quite match the excitement of our first-ever NCAA basketball national championship.”
– Cinnamon Bair

“I have so many fun memories of those first winter months working men’s and women’s basketball, swimming and gymnastics. Looking back now – after more than 30 years – it’s pretty cool to say that I was responsible for documenting the results of the first event held in the place that in Gator lore would become lovingly known as the O’Dome. In April of 1980 I moved to Gainesville to work as assistant sports information director for the Gators. I had just graduated from Western Kentucky University and was fortunate to be one of the first women to work in sports administration. When I first came to Gainesville to interview for the job, I noted the big white building under construction across North-South Drive but never thought I’d be fortunate enough to work the first event to be held there. On Friday, Dec. 5, 1980 at 1 p.m., the Lady Gator women’s swim team hosted the Alabama Lady Tide.  I’m not sure any of the swimmers or divers appreciated that they were on their way to becoming a footnote to history – participating in the first event held in the O’Connell Center. There were no offices open in the O’Connell Center in those early days – so every event we worked, we had to carry all the equipment we needed (typewriters, phones, etc.,) from our offices in the Stadium to the O’Connell Center and then back again. I’m not sure at the time any of us working those first events realized the importance of those days.”
– Quenta Vettel

“In the O’Connell Center basement, there’s a weight room. For several years, I worked in McCarty Hall and was able to walk over to the O’Connell Center almost every weekday afternoon and spend my lunch break lifting. I’d get to the weight room right when it opened, when it was quiet and there was little competition for equipment. I was in my late 40s and usually the oldest person in the room by a couple of decades…with one exception. That’d be Bobby, a fellow who worked for Physical Plant and came by most days to lift. He was a big guy, maybe 50 years old. He looked like he’d probably been a great athlete in his youth. Now, like me, he was carrying some extra pounds and found a way to get in a little exercise on the job. After seeing him a few times, I introduced myself. It seemed rude not to. So we struck up a friendship and used to chitchat about our lifting routines, and work, and our families. He was a great guy. He loved to bench press, and his thing was to load up the bar with 225 lbs. and do as many reps as possible – this is one of the main exercises that football players do in the NFL combine, though I’m not sure if that was why he did it. Whatever the reason, he was good at it — he used to knock out several sets of 8 or 10 reps, a lot more than I could do with that kind of poundage. I took some motivation from seeing another old guy hitting the iron, and I expect he did, too. Then one day the unit where I work was relocated to a building south of Lake Alice. My visits to the O’Connell Center became rare. I kept lifting, but I went to the Southwest Rec Center and Living Well. I haven’t seen Bobby since then, but I hope he’s still at it, cranking out those reps with 225 on the bar.”
– Tom Nordlie

“My husband, Brian LaPlant, and I are both “retired” mascots for the university. It is tradition for mascots to wear hands and feet for graduation, so for our ceremony, we both wore the fuzzy accessories. It was a great day full of lots of memories in the O’Dome. I was sad to end my scholastic career at UF, but I have been able to live and work in Gainesville since then. We continue to visit the O’Dome regularly for Gator events and each time we enter the building, we can’t help but smile. Orange and Blue runs deep in the LaPlant family and we hope to instill Gator fever in our 11 month old son, Brock.”
– Kourtney D. LaPlant, Pharm.D. UF 06