Passion Play - Part 3

In case you missed this, this is a MUST READ NOW! This article appeared in a recent edition of <B>FightinGators magazine</B>. If you love the Gators and recruiting, you will LOVE this article. If you are not signed up for FightinGators magazine, this is what you are missing. <P> <B>Betty Ling</B> has turned her love of the Gators into a career that has contributed to Florida's football success. <P> Part three of three

Passion Play - Part ONE

Passion Play - Part TWO

Ling has worked with 10 different recruiting coordinators since Sonny McGraw and Charley Pell hired her in 1979. Through the years with McGraw to Dan Coughlin, to Jim Weaver to Bo Bayer, to Tim Cassidy to Jim Goodman to Carl Franks to Jim Collins to Tyke Tolbert and now with Mike Locksley, there are some things that have never changed when it comes to Gator football recruiting. First and foremost is Ling's organization of all phases of a recruit's activities whether on an official visit to UF or on unofficial trips to Gainesville to attend a Gator football game. On home football Saturdays, the Gator Room, a meeting room on the street level of the Southwest Corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the gateway for recruits, their parents and guests into Florida Field. And Betty Ling is the gatekeeper.

"The way she guards her area on game day… she just guards it with a passion," Jim Collins said. "And don't ever walk into the Gator Room with another team's jersey. That was a big mistake."

There are the Ling rules. And they are enforced.

"They can wear anything they want to wear with the exception of the opponent's clothes," she explained. "I don't care if they're an Auburn fan. I don't care if they're a Florida State fan, but don't wear Florida State stuff on my ticket. They have six Florida State home games they can go to, they can wear that stuff at Florida State and that's fine, but don't come to Florida and wear it.

"I don't let 'em in with it. They'll try to turn their shirt inside out or if they see someone turned away they'll try to hide their hat in their shirt and they think after they get down on the field they can flip that hat out. There were Miami kids who had Miami jerseys stuffed in their shorts. Obviously I don't check that, but then they put them on when they got down to the field.

"I don't usually get down to the field until after the first quarter when we have everybody checked in. When I got down there three of them had Miami jerseys on. I told them they could do one of two things. They could take them off or leave the game. They said they paid for them and they weren't going to give them to me. I told them I didn't want a Miami jersey. There was no way they'd put one of those on me, but I told them I would hold them and they could have them back when they left.

" I took their jerseys and I told them 'you're going to sit right here, right by me, you're not going to go sit with Miami fans.' So I put them in the stands right by the tunnel and I made them look at me all day. I stood right there and dared them to cheer for Miami. When the game was over I took them in the weight room, gave them their jersey and walked them out the door. None of them ended up coming here, but they didn't go to Miami either. I don't care what kind of fan they are but to me that was just pure rude."

Because opposing coaches, officials and fans would like to have access to all the recruits who are seated together in the front rows of the South Endzone during home games, Ling has to become a quasi-police officer. If you're not supposed to be in the area governed by Ling, she makes sure you're given the boot. She doesn't care who thinks they're allowed access.

"I'm down there near the tunnel and I'm constantly watching to see who's down there. I have guards down there who help me and they'll come and get me if there's any problem.

"Like the South Carolina guy a few years ago. He had on street clothes and just kept standing there and kept looking. I was watching him and he kept inching closer (to the recruits). So he got a little too close and he wasn't looking at me. See they don't pay any attention to a woman.

" Can I help you with something," Ling asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Well sir your pass says East sidelines so you need to get back there," she informed him.

"No, I'm fine just here," he answered again.

"No, you're not fine here," she said.

"Don't you know who I am?" he replied.

"No, I don't really care who you are because you're not wearing the proper identification, and number two I really do know who you are," Ling continued.

"Who am I?," he questioned.

"I think you're (Heisman Trophy winner) George Rogers, but you know what, I'm not impressed because you see the guy standing over there with the visor, well he won a Heisman too. But he's where he's supposed to be. So if you can't move I'll get a guard and he'll help you move."

Reluctantly, Rogers walked back to the South Carolina sideline and stayed away from Betty Ling's territory the rest of the day.

While Ling may have pioneered the locker room set up for visiting recruits, there's another recruiting tradition that was inaugurated at Florida many years before Ling arrived in Gainesville. The notion of a visiting prospect being escorted around campus by a pretty coed seems like an ancient part of recruiting. But in reality it wasn't until the '60s that a school actually assembled a group of females for the sole purpose of escorting, and many believe, entertaining high school football prospects whose rising testosterone levels generated, more often than not, unrealistic visions of sexual grandeur that might be realized during a weekend campus visit. That group of gals at UF became known as the Gator Getters.

"There's been a lot of speculation about that," Ling said. "We know Norm Carlson (UF's longtime sports information director) started it. But even Norm doesn't remember a lot of the details or what year it was. I know Jeri Spurrier was a Gator Getter. We know she was here with Steve so it had to be the early '60s.

"I took it over in '79 and it's a lot different now than it was back in 1978," Ling explained. "The squad was already picked when I got here, and after talking to a few of the girls I went to coach Pell and told him that I didn't agree with what they were saying they could do with the recruits and I didn't condone that."

Ling wasn't willing to give details of the Gator Getters' activities, but suffice it to say that the stereotype that had been created for the Gator Getters apparently wasn't that far off the mark.

" Now I wasn't there and I don't really know what was happening and I didn't really ask them, but I listened to them talking about going out with the guys and doing things and I said 'No!' I didn't know what all they were doing, but I was a Gator fan and I was a Gator player. I wasn't worrying about all those girls, but I was worried about how we played the (recruiting) game. That bothered me. I went straight to him (Pell). He said 'That's why I gave it to you. You turn it around. You make it whatever you think it should be. I trust you."

Many years later, Ling isn't so sure the stereotype of the Gator Getters (now known as Gator Guides) has changed in the minds of the general public.

"It took me a long time to change things and we still have that stereotype," Ling said. I put long shorts on the girls. I don't let them wear anything skimpy. I don't pick the prettiest girls on campus. I get fussed about that. I want them (recruits) to see these are University of Florida students. We put them through interviews. I want to hear that they love the University of Florida as much as I do. I want them to act like a natural student. I want them to be honest. We aren't putting on a show. If they're a bad student or a marginal student we don't use them. If you're having trouble with your classes it's going to be easy for you to tell someone 'Yeah I'm really struggling, I'm failing.' We don't want that. Our average girl has over a 3.0 (grade point average).

"It's taken me years to build," she added. "We don't close the doors to guys, either. If they want to apply they can apply. We've had them pick up applications but they never turn them in. I encourage them. A lot of times I could use some guys. We could use all the help we can get.

This year's contingent of 80 Gator Guides serve an important role in each and every recruit's visit, but their job is to sell the University's merits, not their own, to the prospects.

"I have a problem with a prospect coming to the University of Florida because he had a good Gator Guide," Ling said. "If that's what he's coming for then he's got problems too. We're going to sell the education and our football program. That's all we're going to sell. Our girls never have a last name on their name tag. I want to take away every possibility of them thinking this is what we do.

"We still have that stigma no matter what we do," she continued. "Coach Spurrier took away the cowboy hats so now we have caps or visors. They have long shorts. They hate 'em, but they wear 'em. They are baggy and they are long. They only have to wear them six times (at home football games). We try to make them look like a young lady."

At times, Gator football has been a case of life and death for Betty Ling. As if pre-ordained, her birthday intertwined with two of the greatest moments in Gator football history and also became one of the saddest days of her life.

Back on Nov. 16, 1984, Betty's 42nd birthday, Galen Hall took her with the team on the trip to Kentucky as a birthday present. It was the first trip Betty had ever taken as part of the team. She celebrated her birthday the night before the game and a day later, Florida won its first SEC football title, which was later stripped away by the conference presidents.

Seven years later, the Gators played again on her birthday. This time, UF beat Kentucky 35-26 to win the school's first official SEC title. "Coach asked me what I wanted for a birthday present and I told him all I wanted is an SEC championship so he said 'Okay, we'll go get it."

Two years later, on Nov. 16, 1996, she wasn't at the 52-25 win over South Carolina, the only home game she has missed since 1979. She had to bury her 82-year old father Joshua Mansell.

Back in the '80s, Betty turned many home football weekends into family affairs. Sons Tim (now 35) and Kenny (32) served as helpers in the Gator Room and Frank, who has been married to Betty and her Gator fanaticism for 45 years, has been a constant presence, and loyal Gator, even though Alabama has always been his personal college football favorite. Betty's Gator pride may have led to the naming of their oldest boy after Steve Spurrier, but Frank's loyalties were taken care of too. Son Tim has the middle name Scott (for Alabama quarterback Scott Humter) and Kenny is named after The Snake himself, former 'Bama quarterback Ken Stabler.

"I don't know one family that has put in more time for the Gators than the Lings," said Bo Bayer, the football recruiting coordinator for two years in the mid-80s. "Her family figured out that if they wanted to see Mom they have to work on weekends too. She usually stays behind the scenes so a lot of people didn't appreciate her and all she did. Her family was an integral part of our success in the '80s and the '90s. It's not a job to her--- it's her life."

In many ways, Betty Ling has been the lifeblood of Gator football for nearly a quarter century.

"She has had unbelievable dedication and commitment to the University of Florida," said athletic director Jeremy Foley, who has been at UF since 1976. "Every single recruit that has come through here, the first face they saw was Betty Ling. She bleeds Orange and Blue. She wants nothing but the best for the program and she's been a huge factor in our success."

"My philosophy for twenty-five years has been that I don't turn any kid down who wants to visit. I'm proud of what we have and I want them to see it," Ling said. "I want them to compare Florida to any school they've got. We're not perfect. But we try hard and we work. Hopefully nobody's outworking us."

It's hard to imagine that could be happening anywhere.

Passion Play - Part ONE

Passion Play - Part TWO

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