The Florida A&M Department of Athletics was honored with a proclamation during the Leon County Board of Commissioners meeting for their humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Initiated by Commissioner Nick Maddox, the recognition was part of a day of celebrating athletic achievements by the commission.
FAMU tennis coach Nikki Goldthreate, head football coach Willie Simmons and Athletics Director John Eason, Ph.D., were all present for the ceremony. Football players Dock Luckie and Terry Jefferson, along with tennis players Sophia Osabuohien and Mialiniania Rakotondrazafy also represented the department.
The presentation began with the playing of the FAMU Cares video produced by Rattler Productions chronicling some of the outreach efforts undertaken by the department to support those in need after the near category five hurricane ravaged the northwest landscape of Florida.
The central theme of the effort was an announcement by Simmons at the conclusion of their football game in North Carolina, which took place 72 hours after the hurricane had made landfall. The Rattlers had just defeated the No.1 team in the country, but the celebration was short-lived as the scene back home took precedence in the emotions of all involved.
“My players decided they wanted to help out. We decided on a plan, and just a few hours after we returned from North Carolina, we were on our first mission. Several more days of service followed, but it was driven by how they wanted to get involved. We facilitated their desires and the results were life-changing,” Simmons said.
State representative Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) set up a connection with the Salvation Army and the U.S. National Guard. Most of the efforts of the Department of Athletics were under this umbrella. From delivering water to Marianna, to assisting the National Guard in Chattahoochee, most of FAMU’s 300 student-athletes got involved.
Goldthreate was pleased with how things turned out. “It was an honor to be recognized by the county commission. We certainly did not get involved for the publicity, we knew that the devastation done to our great state was more than some folks could bear. Our tennis team jumped in and helped often…whenever there was availability to help,” she added.
One of the most involved days in the recovery effort was a trip to Chattahoochee, Fla. Long after many had power and resources restored, Chattahoochee was still struggling. The Rattler football team took on a three-hour shift, relieving national guardsmen who had no relief in sight. With the vast area the storm covered, personnel were stretched thin. In Chattahoochee’s case, the cadets had no individuals to relieve them. When the football team arrived, they were a sight for sore eyes. The guardsmen were able to take a three-hour break, while football players handled the rationing of food and water supplies to those affected by the storm.
“We make every effort to develop a total citizen when we sign student-athletes to come to FAMU. This was a real-life experience that built character among our youngsters. Nothing can prepare you for life like the experience of being involved in the plight of people trying to regain some level of normalcy,” said Eason.
In a total surprise, Commissioner Bill Proctor was allowed to present Simmons with an award external of the commission. Proctor presented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award for Simmons’ leadership in community service this year.
“This was a total surprise. Any time you have your name mentioned in the same breath as Dr. King, it is truly an honor. I do not take it lightly and will try to uphold the principles of this award and the legacy of Dr. King,” said Simmons.