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Florida Gulf Coast has Fort Wayne ties

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

School recruited here to get athletic department started

Friday, March 29, 2013 - 1:09 am

At around 1 a.m. Monday morning, every attempt to access the Florida Gulf Coast University website was met with a statement saying the server was overloaded.

The bandwagon for America's favorite new Cinderella team was stuck in the mud because it was so full. Bet you didn't know there are a few folks from Fort Wayne driving the coach, though.

When former Great Lakes Valley Conference Commissioner Carl McAloose signed on as FGCU's athletic director in 2000, a couple of his first hires were former IPFW Athletic Director Butch Perchan and former IPFW tennis coach J. Webb Horton. They helped persuade former IPFW coach Karl Smesko to become the Eagles women's basketball coach.

The school opened in 1997, played NCAA Division II for 10 years before joining Division I in 2007 where the Eagles have won 28 Atlantic Sun Conference titles in various sports.

``I'm behind 465 emails,'' said Perchan, FGCU's director of athletic advancement. ``They are all congratulatory and every third or fourth is, `How can I help?' Believe me, we'll find a way.''

Smesko, IPFW's coach from 1999 to 2001, led the FGCU women's basketball team to the NCAA Tournament last year. He's 288-54 in 10 years in Fort Myers, including 27-6 this year and 18-0 in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A member of the Fort Wayne Tennis Hall of Fame, Horton is FGCU's senior associate athletics director for external affairs and also the color man on the basketball radio and television broadcasts.

``We've very fortunate that this is an area that has supported athletics,'' Horton said. ``Even though they have retired down here and may be primary fans of other schools, they have adopted us as their hometown school. It's really been nice, and they've supported us financially.''

Eagles athletes are also smart, with a 3.2 grade-point average and more than 7,500 hours of community service annually.

The biggest difference maker in the men's basketball program is coach Andy Enfield, who teaches a relaxed but relentless style. When he noticed his players were tightening up against Georgetown, Enfield called a timeout just to tell them to quit stressing out and have fun.

``Andy has a philosophy of long and athletic players,'' Horton said. ``We had 100-some dunks this year so it's a fun brand of basketball to watch.''

Perchan said Enfield is as good a coach as he's ever seen.

Part of FGCU's building success also comes from northeast Indiana. Perchan estimates more than 50 families from this area are now FGCU fans after migrating to Florida.

``There are a lot of good folks down here,'' Perchan said. ``It's been an amazing ride so far.''