At the Scholarship Endowment Dinner, players give a heartfelt thank you to the donors who make their collegiate experiences possible.
Fred and Debbie Pruitt moved to Gainesville from Jacksonville to be closer to their daughter, son-and-law and four grandchildren. The Pruitts, though, are longtime University of Florida fans. How long? Way back, Debbie said, to when former athletic director Jeremy Foley worked in the ticket office.
“We’ve always been Gators,” she said.
On April 11, the Pruitts were on hand for a very big night for UF sports and it had nothing to do with a game, match or meet. The University of Athletic Association held its Sixth Annual Scholarship Endowment Dinner in the atrium of Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center.
The banquet’s original concept was to give student-athletes a chance to meet and greet the very people who help fund their collegiate experiences. A time for them to say “Thank you.”
But Debbie Pruitt had a different take on things.
“No, no, no. We’re the ones who feel grateful to be here,” she said. “What they give us is what matters. I told a couple of [volleyball players] here that they don’t realize the effect they have on people and the positive influence that can be.”
Her husband Fred is a first-year member on the Gator Boosters Board of Directors.
“When you meet these young men and women, you want to do everything you can to help them,” he said. “They are truly wonderful people. You get a chance to see them up close here, talk to them, and learn fun things about them.”
Both athletic director Scott Stricklin, who welcomed the guests, and Gator Boosters executive director Phil Pharr, who provided closing remarks, called the event one of their favorites of the entire year.
In between those two, junior volleyball star Rachael Kramer and 18-time All-America sprinter and long-jumper Grant Holloway addressed the crowd. Above the podium from which they spoke were the words “Tom and Jane Johnson Family Atrium,” one of dozens of donor markers on UF athletic facilities across the campus.
It was that generosity honored at the banquet.
“To see people and put faces to names of the people that support academic scholarships is amazing,” said Kramer, who is on schedule to graduate this summer and complete work toward a marketing degree in just three years. “These incredible people are also the biggest Gator fans in the world. To think these people put their money into Florida athletics is incredible. I love to hear their stories and how much the Gators mean to them. Being here tonight gives us a chance to be a fan of theirs.”
Junior linebacker Jeremiah Moon told how UF coach Dan Mullen often implores his players to be mindful and respectful of their surroundings because of the very source of those surroundings.
“He wants us to pick up the locker room because there are people spending millions of dollars on us who just might come in there sometime,” Moon said. “Here, we get an opportunity to see these people who do these things out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s a blessing, honestly, to see all of these people who care for the athletes, want great things for us and support us by giving us the best of the best.”
As part of the proceedings, athletes rotated from table to table for a question-and-answer sessions with their guests. There was also a video tribute with various UF athletes — Amanda Lorenz, David Reese, Nelson Maldonado and Sierra Brooks, to name a few — looking into the camera and saying “thank you.”
Pharr, a former UF football player himself (back when Foley was in the ticket office, as well), called all athletes to the stage for a photo. As they came forward, he quoted Benjamin Franklin.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” he said.
Holloway, the six-time NCAA champion, later had a pretty good quote himself.
“Everything I do is for the grace of God,” he said. “But I’ll forever be in debt to Florida athletics and these people here for what they have done for me.”