Polk County Gators Raise the Bar

As Urban Meyer makes his trek across the state speaking at Gator Gatherings, the crowds he speaks to are usually fired up. On Tuesday, Meyer was supposed to speak in Lakeland. When 2-3 inches of rain fell within an hour before the engagement and the place was flooded, the speaking part of the event had to be canceled. That didn't keep more than 500 Lakeland area Gators from showing up.

It is a testament to the loyal and maybe unmatched fanatical intensity that the folks from Polk County and nearby counties showed up in droves through the worst weather this natural born Floridian has ever been in. As I made my way to Lakeland for the event, lightning was crashing all around, the wind was howling, and hail was hitting my car. The skies looked like midnight and it was only 5 p.m.

The scene looked like that after a Tsunami had hit and the water was rushing back to it's natural place. As I made my way to the aircraft hangar where the event was supposed to happen, water was rushing half way up to my knee in the parking lot. The rain was still coming down, but to my surprise, hundreds of folks were making their way to the event, some with shoes on and some without. I knew even if I didn't get to hear Meyer speak or if he didn't make it to speak to the media, there was a story to be had here.

Some large merchandise vendors had been set up in the area just outside the hangar, but they were not going to be able to sell their things in this weather. A few were inside, but they weren't able to get many folks to come by.



Instead, everyone was just having a good time laughing and shaking their head at what probably was not going to happen. It had been four years since Meyer made his stop to Lakeland, back before he ever coached a game for the Gators. This was a huge welcome back party for the two-time national champion coach. Instead, it turned into a meet and greet for 500 of their best Gator friends. More than you might find Hurricane fans at a Miami home game.

At around 6 p.m. The news was broken to all involved, they had to call off the event due to issues with power and water and the deadly mix that can be. It wasn't exactly what everyone had hoped and the organizers scrambled to try and make the best of things. In the end, safety had to take priority as conditions were just not what they needed to be for the event.

"The main reason we had to cancel is because we had to turn the power off for the sound," Polk County Gator Club President Roi Cornish said. "We are going to try and reschedule it and do what we can."

Cornish should be proud of his group that showed up in droves, some without shoes on to wade through the water, some still in their dress clothes and shoes from work. All in all, people were laughing it up and smiling at what happened knowing there was just not much anyone could do.

"We stopped it at 850," Cornish said of the amount of tickets originally sold for the event. "We could have sold 1200 but didn't have accommodations. We turned away about 400 three weeks ago and we probably have about 500 people that still made it here right now, even with 3 inches of water on the floor."

Cornish wasn't the least bit surprised at the turnout. He has been around long enough to know that these Polk County folks take their Gator football seriously.

"I'm not surprised how many are here," he said. "Polk County is number one when it comes to Gator Boosters. This is an idea of what the University of Florida means to these people. Their support is unprecedented."

The canceled event also was a disappointment for some outside of Polk County. There is no Tampa area gathering scheduled this summer so most Tampa area Gators that wanted to see Meyer speak had to travel to Orlando earlier in the month or to this canceled Polk County event. There were quite a few that drove through the thunderstorms on the way to see Urban Meyer speak and left the night a little disappointed but understanding.

Karen Holland came from the Tampa area and brought a small group with her.

"I was disappointed because I always went to the Pinellas/Hillsborough Gathering and I found out they weren't having one," Holland said. "I am very impressed with the turnout and this place is half full, even with all of the water."

Like so many of the Polk County folks in attendance, Holland chose to look at the bright side of things and understood the issues at hand.

"I have been to see Urban for four years now and I always go to the Women's clinic," Holland said. "So, I will still get to see him this year."

With all the recent stars from Polk County dotting the roster for the UF football team, this area will likely become even more rabid about their Gators. As of right now, I have seen it for my own eyes that they are most likely the most passionate Gators out there.


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