Gator Nation News

Traditions Reimagined

UF traditions are marching on. Here’s a rundown of how just a few campus favorites are handling the reality of COVID-19. The only thing we know? Any plans may change at any moment.

Homecoming, Growl, Parade

The Gator will growl, but the Swamp won’t fill up any time soon. “We have completely redesigned our typical schedule of events to better unify the Gator Nation and continue to show how resilient Gators are during these times,” said David Gundy, Gator Growl’s executive producer.

Tentative plans are to hold virtual events during the first three weeks in October and to culminate with a video on Oct. 23 highlighting the best moments from past Gator Growls — with this year’s in-person Growl pushed back to spring’s Orange and Blue weekend. Homecoming traditions like the parade, Gator Gallop and festival will all have a new flavor, too. Instead of a road parade, there will be decorating contests. Gator Gallop will be a worldwide virtual race with runners submitting their own times. Depending on COVID-19’s cooperation, the festival will either be a small outside event or a showcase of area businesses and clubs. The pageant and Soulfest will be prerecorded and broadcast.

The goal, Gundy said, is to still bring Gators together, even if means celebrating in their own backyards.

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Krishna lunch

During the pandemic, Krishnas fed UF Health Shands workers and people in surrounding neighborhoods who have fallen on hard times because of the shutdown. Called Healthcare Heroes and Krishna Cares, these programs started this summer providing about 100 plates of food per day, said Krishna Lunch manager Nanda Dasi. She was happy to report that the need for those free meals dropped by half in recent months.

Prior to the pandemic, from 800 to 1,400 people per day ate Krishna lunch on the Plaza of the Americas.

Since 1971, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas, have been feeding UF community members in exchange for a suggested donation amount. But with the pandemic, Krishna Lunch had to close its Plaza of the Americas location.

Intent on not letting their patrons down, the Krishnas made their meals available for pick up at the Krishna House (214 NW 14th Street) or by delivery through GrubHub, UberEats and Door Dash. They served about 150 people per day this way.

On August 31, they returned to the Plaza of the Americas with a UF-approved safety plan in place. The plan includes Plexiglas barriers mounted to their carts, cones that promote social distancing, hand sanitizer stations, a COVID-19 testing plan for servers, and signs that request patrons wear masks.

Krishna Lunch manager Nanda Dasi said the alternative arrangement worked well and her team received many positive comments and notes from appreciative patrons, but the goal was always to return, as soon as it was safe, to campus.

The Band Plays On

Saxophonist Lisa Turk (shown here in her April 2020 YouTube audition video) was one of the lucky few who made the final cut for the 2020-21 Pride of the Sunshine.

In prior years, musicians who wanted to play for the Gator Band had to audition between February 1 and July 1. Formerly in-person, the auditions moved to video format a few years ago, uploaded to YouTube. “This had worked great and has set us up not to be affected this year with the pandemic,” says Jay Watkins Jr., director of the Gator Bands, who extended the deadline to August 1.

The only members who still auditioned in person – percussionists for the Florida Drumline, Florida Visual Ensemble and Majorettes – switched to video auditions this year.

The video format gives students more opportunities to practice and review their audition reel before submission and eliminates having to travel to a live audition, says Watkins.

“In addition, it lessens the stress of a high-stakes audition,” he points out. “We will probably continue in this fashion for the future.”

ACCENT Speakers

UF Black Student Union, Pride Student Union and ACCENT organized a Black Lives Matter speaking event in June as part of the virtual summer series. Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza participated.

When COVID-19 deterred large groups from meeting in late spring, Student Government’s 54-year-old ACCENT speaker’s bureau turned to an online format that proved to be efficient and streamlined, said ACCENT Chairman Steve Wolf (4JM) of Miami. Here’s how this new format works.

  • The speaker talks, or is interviewed, for 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute Q&A.
  • Viewers can post questions or comments.
  • The more “likes” a question receives from viewers, the more likely the moderator will select that question during the Q&A period.

Sell-out crowds are less likely with this format, because the online world isn’t regulated by fire codes.

Despite the benefits, Wolf says the UF community can absolutely expect ACCENT events to resume their traditional, in-person format when this pandemic passes.

“Nothing can compare to seeing these famous and influential people come to Gainesville – our small town – and hearing them in person,” Wolf said. “The way they engage with the audience and react to questions makes an impression. Plus, the fact that we put on all these shows and it’s all done by students makes the events memorable.”

Intramural Sports

With fewer students on campus this fall, Rec Sports has offered a truncated list of programs.

From basketball and flag football to pickleball and kickball, UF intramural sports have offered UF students a release as well as opportunities to have fun and make new friends since before the 1940s. And for some students – especially those on UF’s three defending national champion sport club teams (women’s water polo, badminton and women’s flag football) – these sports are an opportunity to take their games to the next level.

While UF’s Department of Recreational Sports organized more than 2,500 teams for 12,000 students last year, with fewer students on campus, Rec Sports plans to offer a modified list of programs. Which sports made the cut for the fall? They include:

  • Pickleball
  • Tennis
  • Cornhole
  • Soccer Tennis
  • Softball
  • Kickball
  • 4-on-4 indoor volleyball

One-day tournaments and other events will also be offered.

Greek recruitment

Greek organizations like UF's Delta Gamma chapter (shown in this September 1 social media post) are emphasizing mask wearing; most transitioned to virtual recruitment for the fall semester.

Yes, Greek organizations are recruiting for new members in fall 2020, says Reginald Lane, director of UF’s Sorority and Fraternity Affairs. However, each of the four councils that oversee chapters at UF is tailoring a different approach during COVID times.

Normally, recruitment – commonly referred to as Rush – involves days or weeks of in-person orientation, house tours, interviews and parties that culminate in Bid Day.

This year, many events have gone virtual, and all potential new members who take part in on-site events must observe UF social distancing guidelines, mask requirements and occupancy limits. However, the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that develop are expected to be as strong as ever.

Applicants to sororities, for instance, attended Zoom orientation events in August and introduced themselves virtually by submitting a 90-second video. All subsequent events took place via Zoom conversations and virtual parties. Applicants could choose to attend Bid Day in person or virtually on Aug. 27.

Spirit Squad tryouts

Tryouts usually take place in person over three days. This time, videos were sent in and judged.

Fear not, Gator fans. The 2020-21 Florida cheerleaders, Dazzlers and mascots are ready to get you psyched for whatever UF sporting events take place this season, say coordinators Casey Reed and Cortnee Gilchrist. It just took some extra time and flexibility to find the best of the best.

Normally Florida Gators Spirit Squad tryouts happen in person over several days in May, with 50 to 70 participants competing for one of Cheer’s coveted 30+ spots. Roughly the same number of dancers try out for the 22-member Dazzlers, and between 10 and 15 applicants audition to assist with the Mascots Program. The highly competitive tryouts see hopefuls evaluated on three to four routines, as well as relevant skills (kicks, leaps and tumbling skills for cheerleaders; double pirouettes, front kicks and calypso leaps for Dazzlers).

When UF students were sent home mid-March, Spirit Squad tryouts had to go virtual. Applicants’ skills videos were judged in July, and it took several nail-biting weeks before the first cuts were announced. Only then were prospective members given 24 hours to learn new routines and submit their second videos, with decisions made in August.

Given that the final status of all UF sporting events is not yet known, Cheer and Dazzlers have trimmed down to 12 members each this year, with the number of Mascot Program students holding steady at eight. Expect to see Albert and Alberta at all kinds of sporting, social and charity events.

Learn about the rigorous training schedules and skills sets of the Florida Gators Sprit Teams at

Lake Wauburg

Lake Wauburg is open, with CDC guidelines in effect.

The Lake Wauburg escape Gators have sought for decades is open for business.

The park is following CDC guidelines, which means fewer visitors, face coverings at customer service locations, and physical distancing, said Amber Larkin, associate director of outdoor recreation for Recreational Sports. In addition, restrooms and water fountains are closed, as is the entire south shore. The park’s hours have also been adjusted to Wednesday-Sunday, 12-6 p.m.

On the flip side, the north shore’s Cypress Lodge is open at a limited capacity. And swimming, boating, picnics and hanging out are the same as ever — almost. Groups are limited to no more than 10 people.

All in all, “things went really well” this summer when the university rolled out the new rules, Larkin said, noting that the park’s capacity was reduced to 200 visitors at a time, roughly half the normal number. She’s confident the new measures will keep students and employees relaxed and healthy.

“I’m really proud that we’re able to open Lake Wauburg at the capacity we have,” she said. “Outdoor recreation is important — especially right now.”

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The Arts

A late August virtual event launched the Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship.

Creative practice and research look a little different at the College of the Arts, a place where in-person interaction was a key element of everyday life. Instead of crowds gathering in auditoriums this fall to watch theater productions and dance performances and music recitals, patrons will gather online. Instead of large groups admiring paintings in the art gallery, people will social distance and timed visits will be spread out. Instead of listening to guest lectures in-person, there will be virtual talks.

The shift started months ago. Art students created home studios and displayed their final spring projects in an exhibition on Instagram. The UF Center for Arts in Medicine hosted its Theatre Connect summer season via Zoom. Isolated student musicians made music together on social media channels — including a virtual orchestra and saxophone ensemble. The School of Theatre + Dance presented two plays and one dance production online. Plans are in the works now to live stream more productions and performances on YouTube.

“The thing that’s going to be interesting is how classes will function,” Holly Franklin, the college’s marketing manager, said. “So many things in the arts you can’t do alone on your screen. You need to have collaborators.”

Rehearsals and dance lessons, stage and costume design — things like those traditionally require in-person interaction. To manage, some classes will be outdoors, and other in virtual formats.

The silver lining, Franklin said, is students are learning a whole new skillset to share their creativity and expertise.

For up-to-date events information, go to:

The Florida Cicerones

How does an ambassador spread goodwill during a pandemic? The Florida Cicerones are answering that riddle this fall.

With campus events and tours and other activities sidelined because of COVID-19, UF’s elite student group — so often the face for the university — is discovering new ways to share the Gator spirit. Since not all the Cicerones are returning to campus for the fall semester and the ones who are will be social distancing, the plan is to represent UF through creative digital outreach and interactions.

To do that, 2020’s class of 193 Cicerones will be producing personal videos to promote the UF experience, hosting student panels and creating social media content, said Jill Pettibone, the UF Alumni Association’s associate director of student engagement.

“We’re finding new ways for them to continue serving as ambassadors for campus,” she said.