The Seminole Boosters...The Early Years
By Jim Joanos
Florida State University is celebrating its Sesquicentennial! Along with that, the Seminole Boosters are celebrating their own fiftieth birthday.
We do not know much about the sports programs of the state's education institution located in Tallahassee in the 1800's. We do know that the school had football teams in 1902, 03, and 04. In 1904, when the school bore the name, Florida State College, the football team even won the Florida state championship. But that would be the last time that Florida State would play intercollegiate football for 43 years. Because in 1905, the Florida Legislature reorganized Florida's education system. That resulted in the Tallahassee institution being restructured as a women's only college in which, for the most part, intercollegiate athletics were not allowed. The Tallahassee entity kept that status until 1947 when, following World War II, it became coeducational again and given its present name, The Florida State University.
Immediately upon regaining its coeducational status, FSU under the leadership of its president, Doak S. Campbell, again took up an intercollegiate athletic program. Ed Williamson, a longtime Tallahassean who had become a physical education instructor at FSU and who had played football at the University of Florida, was placed in charge of organizing a football team. Williamson organized that first team from the ground up. He even had to serve as head coach for the first year's team although that had not been his original plan.
From the very beginning of the new program, the Tallahassee business community became involved in supporting it. Soon after the university had secured Don Veller as its head football coach for the program's second year, a number of Tallahassseans became interested in helping FSU to secure a football stadium. The team had been playing its home games at the old Centennial Field, a facility more suited for baseball. The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce took the lead and by 1950 had organized the Tallahassee Athletic Council composed of several local entities representing the various facets of community life and including the Tallahassee Quarterback Club. Bill McGrotha has written some interesting comments about those events. In his, Seminoles! The First Forty Years, he described the leadership of Rainey Cawthon and Charley Rosenberg, in raising the money for the new stadium. They conceived the plan of selling five-year season tickets for fifty dollars each. A number of Tallahasseans jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets and help the young football program. I recall my Dad being one of those who bought tickets.
In less than six weeks of effort, one thousand tickets were sold and by July 5, 1950, construction had begun in what had been a cow pasture and soon became Doak S. Campbell stadium, a steel structure, complete with lights and 7,500 seats on each side of the field. It is ironic that the FSU football team went undefeated in the first year that it had that stadium. The stadium project was an early example of how important fan support was to be in the development of the FSU sports program. Lots of the people that had been involved in the stadium endeavor would soon also be involved in the establishment of an official booster organization. In fact, you could easily say that the real beginning of the Booster program was that stadium project.
In 1951, Bob Lee Bannerman, World War II veteran, and very recent graduate of FSU, got involved in the early effort to establish a booster club. He tells of getting the go ahead from Coach Veller and then approaching President Campbell seeking the president's endorsement of an organized booster club. He says that Campbell liked the idea but cautioned that faculty support was a necessity for the idea to go forward. Bannerman sought faculty help and three very popular FSU deans quickly responded enthusiastically with the needed support. They were Mode Stone of Education, Coyle Moore of Social Work, and Karl Kuersteiner of Music. Bannerman says that as to support from the local business community, Campbell advised him to go straight to the top. He was directed to contact the owners and presidents of Tallahassee's businesses. Soon, informal meetings were being held to discuss the idea of an organized fan club. One of the first of those meetings was held in the Coffee Shop of the old Cherokee Hotel, that stood on the corner of Park Avenue and Calhoun Street.
The first official meeting of "The Seminole Boosters" was held in January 1952 in the Los Robles' home of Jack Simmons. Simmons was at the time the president of the Elberta Crate and Box Company, one of Tallahassee's most important businesses. Officers were elected. Bannerman became the first president, Harold Carswell became vice president, Karl Kuersteiner, the Secretary, and Zack Shelley, Sr., the Treasurer. Shelley, who was an official in the Tallahassee city tax office set up the financial procedures for the club, and played a big part in the organizational development of the club as well.
From the beginning, the Boosters' goal has been to raise money. In its beginning, it was organized only to support the FSU football program. Later basketball would have a "Tipoff Club" and there would be support for other sports, but that was not the case in the beginning. To raise money, the early method used by the Boosters was something called the "Booster Blitz". The members would organize themselves into teams of two members each and canvass the businesses of downtown Tallahassee. They would get five dollars or so from many of the businesses. A ten dollar donation was greeted with a lot of fanfare and considered a "big donation".
They raised some money in this fashion but it was slow and hard work. They sought more effective methods. According to Bannerman, one of the members, Albert Yates, who would later become a president (now the volunteer head is called the chairman) of Boosters first suggested that they hold some cocktail parties. The plan adopted was to invite potential donors to a big party each year held at the home of one of the more prominent boosters. At the party, the pitch for funds was made. The short program consisted of a spokesman telling of the need for funds and then the "fun" began. One merchant would challenge another merchant, then a bank president would put pressure on another bank president. Sometimes the action was fierce and all the stops were pulled out. The money came in. Bannerman remembers Tallahassee businessman Rainey Cawthon, the former University of Florida football star, who also had such a big part in the stadium project, as one of the leading "money extractors". When the party was over and the business and professional men had gone home, the pledges and cash donations were counted by Shelley and the others. Each party raised from $8,000 to $10,000. That was good money at that day and time and went a long way toward assisting the needs of a football program that was building. Bannerman remembers a number of other prominent Tallahasseans instrumental in the process. Among them were Charles Rosenberg, Spencer Burress, Payne Midyette, Sr., Weldon "Babe" Starry, Godfrey Smith, Julian Smith, Syde Deeb, Wilson Carraway, Ed Haskell, and Sam Teague. A literal "Who's Who" of the Tallahassee business community was involved in the early Booster activities.
The Seminole Boosters continued to pick up steam. The membership rolls increased. In 1954, for $15.00 per year, one could be a member of boosters and get a special tag for the front of an automobile which would entitle the driver to free parking in the stadium for all of the home games. The club expanded into the neighboring towns of Quincy, Perry, Monticello and Thomasville. Occasionally fund raising parties were tried and proved to be quite successful in those towns as well as in Tallahassee.
Bannerman had been hired by FSU in 1953. His initial position was as Assistant Athletic Business Manager. He quickly changed titles to Assistant in Charge of Public Relations and soon thereafter became the Director of Alumni Affairs. Along with his job as head of the alumni office, he became the first professional Executive Director of the Seminole Boosters (now called the President of Seminole Boosters). The Booster organization, now sharing a director and office space with the FSU Alumni Association, continued to flourish. Bannerman served the Boosters until sometime in 1962, when he turned the job over to Tommy Waits who he had previously hired as Assistant Director of the Alumni Association. From 1962 until 1970, Waits served as the Executive Director of the Boosters as well as Executive Director of the Alumni Association.
In the early Sixties, the organization spread throughout Florida and into pockets of Georgia and Alabama. FSU had a number of football players and other students and alumni from those places that helped to attract interest in their hometown areas. Waits recalls that many of the early members of the Boosters continued to be quite helpful. Wilson Carraway, Syde Deeb, Rainey Cawthon, J.Edwin White, Fred Drake, Louis Hill, Godfrey Smith, Julian Smith, Nic Gavalas, Hank Mannheimer, and Ed Haskell are credited as being "tall poles" in the development of Boosters. Other very important members were Bill Carraway, Bill Lee, Frank Pope, Theo Proctor, Bill Dubey, Herschel Williams and Doyle Pope of Quincy. When almost anything was needed, they would respond.
By this point, the size of the contributions had begun to increase. However, a contribution of $1,000.00 was still a very, very big deal and got a lot of attention. Anyone who gave that much was considered somebody special. I can remember attending one of the "Booster Parties" in the early sixties and witnessed one of the young lawyers in attendance considering the pledging of a thousand dollars. It was definitely a decision of major proportions. Ultimately, he decided to do it, got a great deal of attention, and left me hoping that someday I would be able to give that much. In the meantime, I did up my pledge to about fifty dollars for the next year. The pressure had gotten to me.
During Waits time as Executive Director, the two main sources of fund raising continued. The invitation only cocktail parties at a member's home continued to be held each year. By this time, the parties were being catered and the programs were a little more organized. There would be three or four teams complete with captains that would compete. The challenges would go back and forth. There would be "plants" of people who had earlier indicated that they would raise their pledges who would "come forward" with their "announcements" at strategic times. The Boosters also continued to hold their downtown "Booster Blitzes" each year going from merchant to merchant. In addition, a "telephone blitz" was held annually whereby potential members were called and asked to support the program.
Outside of Tallahassee, new things were also happening. When Bill Peterson became the head coach, he was a big help to the Boosters. Waits says that Peterson was very willing and most helpful in going on the road with the Boosters for fund raisers held elsewhere in Florida, Georgia, and other states. He would share a motel room with Boosters so as to cut costs. On more than a few ocassions he would sleep in the back of Waits' station wagon as they would drive back late at night to Tallahassee from some Booster meeting in an away city. He was quite willing to take the show on the road and it paid off in a big increase in Booster support.
A nice network developed outside of Tallahassee. Hugh and Tommy Donovan assisted in Jacksonville, along with Tim Harris, and recently graduated former FSU football player, John Griner. Another former football player, Nelson Italiano, led the Tampa area activities. In Perry, still another former player, Don Grant, was a big help. In St. Petersburg was Bob Crist and in Pensacola was Jim Crabtree. In Quincy was Mitchell Drew. In Atlanta was Carmen Battaglia, also a former player, and Howard Womack, and in Panama City was Jimmy Patronis.
Waits also credits an FSU legislative team of being a big help to the Boosters. Mallory Horne and Dick Mitchell represented Leon County in the Florida House of Representatives and Wilson Carraway was in the Senate. In addition, Rubin Askew, former FSU student body president, now living in Pensacola, and several other alums were in the Florida legislature. They kept the Boosters as well as the university abreast of governmental happenings. In addition, their involvement in Booster activities encouraged others to participate both in Tallahassee and elsewhere.
Again, continuing to this point, the Boosters were still only an FSU football support group. That changed about 1972. By that time, Clay Stapleton had become FSU's athletic director. Stapleton made a number of changes in the athletic program. In addition, he had studied other booster groups and suggested a few changes to the booster organization. Using the University of South Carolina's, "National Gamecock Club" as an example, he successfully obtained Booster support to adopt a new name, that of "National Seminole Club". In addition, the Boosters became an all sports organization. Also about the same time, the Boosters hired a full time Executive Director and moved out of the Alumni Office into an office of their own.
Unfortunately, the new name, which was carried through the 1973-74 school year, seemed to bring bad luck as the university's football fortunes declined. Stapleton left sometime during that period and the school went through several rather depressing seasons. In late 1974 or early 1975, a decision was made to keep the organizational concept of a national organization pertaining to all sports, but to go back to the old name which the more vocal members favored and which was identified with better times. Papers were filed and "Seminole Boosters, Inc." became the official name again.
In 1976, Bobby Bowden became the head football coach and as they would say, "the rest is history". Bowden's leadership has not only been magic on the field but with the Booster organization, as well. The Boosters have continued to grow and prosper through the years. There are lots of other stories about the Boosters both before and since Bowden came to FSU. There are stories about important leaders like Jim Smith, George Langford and many more who came along at the right time. There are stories about the advent of the "Golden Chiefs" and major campaigns. But those stories will have to wait for another day. This story is about the beginnings of the Boosters. So, in summary, suffice it to say, the organization came from humble beginnings but now exists as one of the very top booster organizations in the country. This has not been through the efforts of a few. Hundreds of people have made major contributions of both time and resources. The Boosters are fifty years old!