Dynamic duo: Coaches draw crowds at benefit
Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 11:33 p.m.
It was a Gator fan's ultimate fantasy: a chance to swap stories with the head coaches of both of the University of Florida's national championship teams — Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan — in a single evening.
Between 400 and 500 people paid $1,000 each Thursday night to do just that at a fundraiser for St. Francis Catholic High School.
Gator football coach Meyer stood in one room of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, while basketball coach Donovan held court in another.
A changing crowd swirled around them, shaking hands, asking for a cell phone photo, congratulating them both on a record-shattering 2006 season.
Meyer wore khaki slacks and a casual shirt. Donovan, fresh from practice, arrived in his warm-up gear and basketball shoes.
Shelley Meyer said the demands on her husband's time have become insane since bringing home the BCS championship trophy from Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8.
"But this is one event I wasn't going to miss," the coach said. "She made sure of that!"
The Meyers and the Donovans have joined the campaign to raise $1.3 million to build 10 new classrooms at St. Francis. The high school will see its first senior class next year, and has already outgrown its original classroom space.
"This is a great opportunity for the community to rally around parents who want to give their kids a good Catholic education," Donovan said. "If we can't complete Phase II before the next school year, a lot of kids are going to be out in portables."
Donovan and Meyer spoke briefly to the crowd, describing the role a Catholic education had played in shaping their lives and their success. Donovan's 14-year-old son, Billy, is a freshman at St. Francis High School.
Christine Donovan headed the drive to raise the money for classrooms and to complete the school's sports facilities.
"Tonight's event will go a long way toward that goal," she said.
St. Francis High School opened two years ago and now has 145 students enrolled. About a quarter of the student body are non-Catholic, school officials said.
Principal Ernie Herrington said the costs of construction have risen, even in the five months that the planning committee had been working to raise money. The county will require an additional parking lot to serve the new classrooms.
Also on the list are fields for baseball and softball, tennis courts, a track and a portable stage. Extras like lights and bleachers will depend on how much money is raised.
To date, they've raised $1,256,154, committee members report. The campaign will continue until June, with construction to begin in time to have the facilities completed for the next school year.
Christine Donovan described the event as a night to celebrate, and a performance by Ken Block and Andrew Copeland of Sister Hazel set the tone for the evening.
Even a fantasy night has its limits, however.
One overeager fan was quietly discouraged by organizers when he said he was headed back to his car to pick up a pillowcase full of footballs and another stuffed with basketballs.
Conversation and a quick picture with Donovan and Meyer were welcome. Autographs were out.
Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@gville sun.com
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