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Traditions put the SWOOP in Ospreys


Remember hanging out in the old Boathouse, having a burger with your professor and talking about a political science theory? Or maybe playing a game of two-hand touch on the Green? Did you cheer the Ospreys on against JU in the River City Rumble? Wear blue and gray every Wednesday? Or did you just have a lot of date nights at Tommy G’s?

Whatever you did, you are in great company. Because you and every other University of North Florida alum has taken part in the traditions that anchor you to the campus in Jacksonville and make it a part of you, no matter where you go in the world.

And that is why Campus Life compiled the traditions that really give UNF its character — or put a little SWOOP in an Osprey — and help the people who are a part of the campus community identify with the institution on myriad levels.

The Traditions Committee, composed of Board of Trustees members, alumni, students, employees and community members conducted focus groups and online surveys, gathering input from nearly 700 members of the UNF community regarding the shared experiences alumni, students, faculty and staff find most meaningful.

Debbie Johnson, interim director of Alumni Services and a UNF graduate in both 1985 and 1989, was a part of the committee. “Some of these traditions have been around for decades and some are very new but they have staying power. But the fact that they have become so pervasive is testament to their importance to the UNF community as a whole.”

Like many alums, Johnson, who met her husband Jay on campus, has many fond memories of campus and its landmarks and traditions. “I love UNF,” she said. “And almost everywhere I go on campus, there is a memory. And those tie me to campus. The traditions tie me to campus. Just like they tie each generation to campus. They are shared experiences that mean something to us because we are graduates of the University of North Florida.”

The final list of traditions really encompass the robustness of life on the UNF campus and the transformation that has taken place since its beginning in 1972. No longer four buildings halfway between downtown Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean, the campus is now a bustling mini-city in its own right that offers something for everyone.

The list at UNF has been separated into three categories to help give them a bit of distinction in time, place and space.

The Osprey Spirit

Swoop. Gators might chomp and the ‘Noles might chop, but we swoop. Every new student Osprey is taught the official UNF cheer — a wing swooping motion — at Orientation (and some even learn when they come for a campus tour) so that they can perform the move at all athletic events, official gatherings, walking through airports or whenever the mood strikes. As part of the orientation program “New to the Nest,” new employees are taught how to swoop by a member of the Admissions Swoop Squad.

The SunTrust River City Rumble. The all-sport, all-year athletic rivalry against the Jacksonville University Dolphins started in 2005. The two Division I teams battle for the SunTrust Old Wooden Barrel, which is awarded to the school with the most victories over the other during a school year. Each year, the teams square off 22 times in 14 sports. The current standing for the life of the battle is UNF 4, JU 4 and the teams have tied twice. By the way, no one knows why the trophy is called the Old Wooden Barrel. It was just created to help develop the rivalry between the two institutions.

Lip Sync — Lip Sync is an annual Student Government sponsored can’t miss event for students during Homecoming each year. Nearly every club and organization on campus is represented in this karaoke-on-steroids competition. Some years are themed — ’80s music, anyone? — and some are not — but all are great fun with outrageous costumes, colossal props and some pretty amazing dance routines. Winners proudly claim and display their titles as a badge of honor until the next year.

Blue and Gray Wednesday — Adopted in 2011, the campus community is asked to wear the school colors each Wednesday to show their Osprey pride. In 2012, it became an official initiative of Student Government and Alumni Services made it one of the 52 things every student should do before he or she graduates.

Ozzie’s Oktoberfest — Begun in 1972 as UNF’s original homecoming, it was a German festival sponsored by Student Government that featured canoe rides, a dunking booth, soccer game, tug-of-war and a 5K race. The festival went defunct for a few years but has been rekindled and is now an important event on the fall calendar, though entirely separate from Homecoming, which takes place in February each year. Homecoming was moved to the middle of basketball season to tie it into those events, as well as give the spring semester a centerpiece event.

The Osprey Perch

The Boathouse — The Boathouse has a special place in the hearts of many Ospreys, even though it has been through several incarnations. When it first opened in 1973, it was a food service facility meant to supplement the vending machines on campus. In its first decade, it was more like a student union — serving as a place for socialization, meetings, happy hours and a chance to just hang out with friends. The lakeside snack bar offered a menu of pizza, sandwiches and beverages. At first, students, faculty and staff sat at picnic tables outside the Boathouse but a growing student body forced the addition of a deck in 1974. Soon, concerts, poetry readings and drama productions were regular occurrences. In 1978, a fire claimed the original Boathouse and a new one was built on the same location. New and improved, the new Boathouse was larger, had a sloping roof, a deck over the lake and continued to serve UNF as a food and entertainment venue. In 1994, it was renovated again and in 2002, it was converted to Wackadoo’s Grub and Brew, a casual dining full-service restaurant with video games, pool table and a large projection screen. Booths were added for more comfortable seating. In 2007, it was upgraded again and given a new name — the UNF Boathouse Grille. That Boathouse closed its doors permanently in 2008 to make way for the current Boathouse, which is housed in the new Student Union. That Boathouse opened in 2009 and features a full-service restaurant and bar, ample seating for UNF’s alums, students, faculty and staff and provides gorgeous views of our beautiful, natural campus. It is so spacious and comfortable, that several professors hold their office hours there. If you have not been the Boathouse lately, you have not been to the Boathouse.

The Green — The Green is the central lawn in front of the Fine Arts Center where students gather before, between or after classes to relax, play and host events like the annual “Garbage on the Green,” an annual aimed at educating the University community about ways to reduce campus trash through recycling, litter-prevention practices and sustainability issues. In previous years, it has been where graduations have taken place, cable news giant CNN has hosted several of its shows and many concerts have been hosted. It is THE place to go on campus and just hang out.

Date Night with Tommy G — The student shorthand for studying all night in the Thomas G. Carpenter Library started popping up in conversation (and on t-shirts and Facebook) a few years ago on campus. At first, faculty and staff were confused by the term and assumed it was, literally, a date with someone named Tommy G. Finally, some student took pity on the clueless and connected the dots. Now, it is quite common to hear the library referred to as Tommy G.’s and most everyone understands what it means to have a date night there.

Alumni Third Thursdays — Started in 2004, Alumni Third Thursdays is a monthly gathering of alumni for networking and reminiscing. It was begun as a way to bring area alumni together and form a tighter knit community. It has grown over the years and now the Alumni Services-hosted events have upwards of 75 alumni in attendance. Many new graduates mark their first Third Thursday as a major milestone in their UNF lifetime — the date they truly transition from student to alum.

The Osprey Nest

Natural Environment — Located on a nature preserve, respect for the natural environment runs deep at UNF. Not only do we have miles of hiking, biking and walking trails on campus, several lakes for kayaking and canoeing, a new ropes course and acres of undeveloped land to enjoy, each new building on campus has met the stringent LEED standards for environmental sustainability and efficiency.

Public art and creativity — As well known as UNF is for its beautiful natural environment, it is also that well known for its public art and those who create it. From giant ducks to artisan bike racks to music on the Green, public art and performance enhance UNF’s natural beauty. We are incredibly lucky to have a MOCA, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida; a thriving permanent collection; two different art galleries featuring rotation assortments of varied works and a wide array of statues; sculptures; and installations that lived up the campus environment. Additionally, there is a committed group of students and faculty that have contributed greatly to the University’s position as one of the most artistically diverse institutions in the State University System.

Osprey Statue and Fountain — Installed in 1995, the iconic statue in UNF Arena Plaza is where past, present and future Ospreys pose for classic photos — especially after graduation.

Many groups were happy that their favorite made the list. Johnson was no exception.

“The Green really resonated with me because graduation used to occur on the Green,” she said. “Long before the Arena existed, the Green was where everyone received his or her diploma. My undergraduate ceremony was moved into the Robinson because it was raining, but the Green was where I walked across to receive my graduate degree.”

Johnson said there was a great deal of alumni support for the traditions.

“I talked to several alumni and they were all very pleased with the traditions that were identified,” she said. “They were the traditions that existed when they were students and have been embraced and carried on through the generations. Some of them loved the Boathouse, some of them loved the Green. Some of them loved Oktoberfest and are happy it is making a come back. Others loved the natural setting and are glad that it got a nod. Others are just happy that we are taking this step overall.”

This is only the beginning of the Traditions Project. As the campus continues to grow, more will be added.

“I had no idea that the number of traditions would be as extensive and as complete as it is,” Johnson said. “There are many long-standing events that have become traditions, as well as many newer ones that have been embraced by today’s students. To alumni, the traditions are what connect a graduate back to the University. It is what gets you to remember fondly your alma mater and what gets you plugged back in. They are what bring people back to campus.”

Matt Olsen, a 2008 graduate with a degree in communications, also has fond memories of the Green. “I did regular things like eat lunch and catch up on reading,” he said. “I event skipped a class or two to soak in some perfect weather. But extraordinary things happened there, too. Insightful religious debates, new friends and I even began a relationship there. In so many ways, the Green was the core of my UNF experience and easily one of my favorite traditions.”