The Florida A&M University National Rattler “F” Club honored nine alumni at its 2022 Awards Gala and Dinner in Orlando, at an event scheduled to coincide with activities leading up to the Florida Blue Florida Classic.
Honorees include FAMU Trustee Otis Cliatt II, educator Gwen Coverson, Major League Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, Miami-Dade Commissioner Oliver Gilbert, FAMU Interim Athletic Director Michael Smith, longtime referee Virgil Valdez, retired state employee Deborah Wooten, retired Charles Jefferson, and former Rattler football standout George Williams.
“We are honored to present our highest award: the Distinguished Rattler “F” Club Award,” said President Curtis H. Taylor. “This award is given to those individuals who have given their blood, sweat, and tears to support this great organization and to support FAMU.”
A former Rattler linebacker, Cliatt is president of Pacific Harbor Line, Inc. He is a combat veteran and was awarded the bronze star medal for his actions in Desert Storm. He is a former member of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Airborne at Fort Bragg. Cliatt earned a bachelor’s in business administration with a minor in labor relations from FAMU. He was appointed to the FAMU Board of Trustees in 2019.
Gwen S. Coverson was captain and co-captain during the four years she played on the FAMU women’s basketball team, all while earning a bachelor’s in mathematics education. She went on to earn a master’s in administration and supervision, and a doctorate in educational leadership. Coverson’s career in education spanned three decades in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She spent another 10 years taking her expertise in school districts in Broward, Jefferson, and Seminole counties. Coverson is the co-founder with her husband, Arthur L. Coverson, Jr., of Coverson A&G Holdings, which focuses on young adults with disabilities.
Andre Dawson played at FAMU from 1972-1975 before being drafted by the Montreal Expos. Dawson is the second player in Major League Baseball (MLB) history to reach 400 home runs and steal 300 bases. During his 21 MLB seasons, he was an eight-time All-Star outfielder. In addition to the Expos, Dawson played for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. He posted a .279 career batting average, with 438 home runs, 1591 RBI, and 314 stolen bases. Dawson was also a Golden Glove and Silver Slugger award winner. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2010. Dawson is also a member of the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame.
Oliver Gilbert III graduated from FAMU with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and later earned his law degree from the University of Miami law school. The experienced attorney was elected mayor of his hometown, Miami Gardens, in 2012. He currently serves as Miami-Dade County Commissioner for District 1.
Charles O. Jefferson, a 1973 FAMU graduate, worked for the Division of Retirement for 33 years. His has been a life of community service. Jefferson was vice president of the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, a member of the 220 Quarterback Club and a staunch supporter of the FAMU National Rattler “F” Club.
A former Rattler football player, Michael Smith is serving his third stint as interim athletic director. He had previously served in the role from June 2013 to April 2014.
With more than 25 years at the University, Smith has also served as the associate director of Athletics for Internal Operations, director of Business and Auxiliary Services, Title IX chairperson, an auditor with FAMU’s Inspector General’s Office, and the business manager for the Division of Student Affairs. Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from FAMU in 1985.
Virgil Valdez is a veteran college basketball and football referee. He also spent two decades as a high school sports official. The Miami native graduated from FAMU in 1966 with a degree in elementary education. He began officiating high school basketball and football games in 1970. Valdez is a football official for the Atlantic Coast Conference. In basketball, he officiates for the Atlantic Sun and Sunshine State Conferences.
George B. “Chicken George” Williams played football while studying architectural construction engineering at FAMU. He was a member of the FAMU 1977 undefeated team and the 1978 National Championship team. The Lakeland native has been a design engineer for the last 30 years. He works for Carpenters Contractors of America. Williams also designs residential and light commercial buildings.
Bradenton, Florida, native Deborah Wooten graduated from FAMU with a degree in sociology in 1973. During a 35-year career with the state of Florida, Wooten worked with the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services as a social worker, and later as an investigator with the Child Support Enforcement staff. She finished her career as a child support enforcement supervisor.
In 1989, Coach Hansel Tookes formed the National Varsity “F” Club to bring together former lettered student athletes to support all sports in FAMU athletics. The name was later changed to the National Rattler “F” Club. Over the last three decades, the organization has contributed more than $1 million to FAMU Athletics.