Joint Civic Club Luncheon canceled after 40 years


Former Gator football coach Urban Meyer, left, and current coach Will Muschamp.

File photos
Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.

The University of Florida Joint Civic Club Luncheon, a 40-year tradition at which the UF president and head football coach have spoken, is coming to an end.

UF announced Tuesday that it was canceling the luncheon, which had been held in August before the start of the fall semester. Head football coach Will Muschamp instead will be speaking Sept. 2 at an event for Gainesville's new Titletown Gator Club, but UF President Bernie Machen will not be speaking there.



Titletown Gator Club President Bill Strawn said members of civic groups, as well as the general public, may buy tickets to see Muschamp at the group's event. He said it was a "sign of the times" that Muschamp would not want to speak at multiple local events.

"The coaches are more concerned about football, which they should be ...," he said.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said Machen is unavailable to speak at the Gator Club event. The decision to cancel the civic club luncheon was made independent of whether Muschamp was speaking there, she said.

"Attendance and interest has been waning," she said. "We're just taking some time off."

UF previously had referred to the luncheon as one of the premiere annual events in Alachua County, celebrating the relationship between the university and civic leaders. It brought together members of civic clubs such as local chapters of Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs. Last year marked the 40th annual event.

"It's disappointing that something that has been such a tradition is coming to an end for whatever reason," said Don Robertson, president of the Rotary Club of Gainesville.

Robertson, executive general manager of the Gainesville Raceway, said he had been to a number of the luncheons over the years. While the economic downturn has led to some decreased involvement in civic groups as community leaders focused on their businesses, he said, the event provided a way for local leaders to meet.

"I thought it was a great way to bring everyone together," he said.

The luncheon drew as many as 500 people when it was held at the UF Hilton Conference Center, according to UF. It has been held in recent years in a smaller ballroom at the Paramount Plaza Hotel and last year drew about 325 people.

The university paid for most costs other than food, charging about $17 for lunch. Strawn said tickets to the Titletown Gator Club's event are expected to cost in the range of $35 to $40. It still is being decided whether people who aren't members of the alumni association — and thus automatically part of the Titletown Gator Club — will have to pay more, he said.

Strawn said the event, which will provide funding for the club and scholarships, will be held at the UF Reitz Union in a ballroom that can hold 800 people. The event is scheduled for the afternoon before the football team's first game.

The UF Alumni Association has Gator Clubs across the state and nation. Strawn said the Titletown group started this year as the 100th Gator Club and first in Gainesville.

He said he first tried to start a Gainesville Gator Club more than 20 years ago. He said he saw the booster club as a family-oriented alternative to the male-oriented Fightin' Gator Touchdown and Gainesville Quarterback clubs and female-oriented Florida Goal-Liners.

He said the alumni association lacked interest at that time, so he and his wife formed the Gatortown Gators. Strawn served as president of the Gatortown Gators and Quarterback clubs over the years, he said, and was approached to head the Titletown club when the association decided last year to create the group.

There is room for all the local clubs, Strawn said. He's hopeful members of local civic groups will attend the Titletown event with Muschamp.

"They're certainly invited, and I hope they'll participate," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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