Florida Gulf Coast University took the country by surprise last month, when its basketball team turned Fort Myers into “Dunk City.” But, New College of Florida and Ringling College students are ready to prove that FGCU isn’t the only small Florida school that shouldn’t be underestimated, as the two colleges face off in the tiebreaking game of their five-year-long flag-football rivalry.
A few weeks before the game, the team captains, Michael Long, of New College, and Hunter Thompson, of Ringling College Art and Design, sit and survey the New College of Florida athletic field from a bleacher seat along the sidelines.
The two men are in good spirits as they make small talk, but as the conversation drifts to the upcoming flag-football showdown, the two juniors can’t resist engaging in a little friendly smack-talk.
“Ringling College has incredibly hardworking students,” says Thompson. “New College is full of a bunch of hippies who can’t play ball.”
Long doesn’t miss a beat, and he quickly retorts.
“Well, you can all paint about your feelings when you lose,” he says with a laugh.
This Sunday, April 7, 12 students from each college will trade out their TOMS for cleats as the two schools go head-to-head in the Sarasota Showdown: the tiebreaking game of their bitter flag-football rivalry, which they’re billing as “the most ironic sporting event in history.”
Started five years ago, the game highlights one of the lesser-known, but every bit as heated, rivalries in college sports: the self-described “deep-thinking hippies” of New College of Florida and the “starving artists” of Ringling College.
Long acknowledges the tongue-in-cheek nature of game, and though the respective student bodies are known more for their thesis writing and animation skills than for their 20-yard-shuttle times, he says the actual game will be hard-fought.
After all, there’s a lot on the line. In addition to settling the 2-2 tie and earning bragging rights for the year, the well-being of the school presidents is at stake. The losing team’s college president will be submersed in a dunk tank immediately following the game.
After facing off against each other multiple times in the yearly game, juniors Long and Thompson have developed a friendship. They decided this year’s game deserved more attention. They wanted to draw a larger crowd of students and spectators, and they decided to donate the proceeds from admission price and jersey sales to the American Cancer Society. Starting in December, the two set out to generate more buzz for the game, and getting the presidents on board was crucial.
The son of Ringling President Dr. Larry Thompson, Hunter Thompson says he pitched the dunk-tank idea to his father.
“I don’t know whose idea it was,” says Larry Thompson, “but Hunter kindly volunteered me. I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I just told him he had to assure me that Ringling’s going to win.”
With Thompson on board, Long set out to recruit New College President Dr. Donal O’Shea — at his inauguration ball.
“I kind of cornered him,” says Long with a laugh.
After some convincing from Long and Larry Thompson, Long and Hunter Thompson sealed the deal with a handshake.
In preparation for the game, the two teams are selling jerseys, recruiting cheerleaders and even holding a spirit week, complete with a press conference. They secured a sponsorship from Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, and Growler’s Pub is even offering a $5 tab to each player of the winning team.
Whatever the outcome of the game, students and faculty agree the event will continue to foster the relationship between the two schools.
“Dr. O’Shea and I are both big believers in stronger collaborations between our institutions,” says Larry Thompson. “We want to get much closer.”
Hunter Thompson agrees.
“It’s a good way to have fun and support our schools without having to wear a bowtie,” says Thompson. “Our colleges are so close to each other and have such similar cultures, but we don’t interact all that much. It’s a way to connect with and meet other students.”
President: Dr. Donal O’Shea
Team captain: Michael Long
Team strengths: Strong offense
Team strategy: Get open
President: Dr. Larry Thompson
Team captain: Hunter Thompson
Team strengths: Strong defense
Team strategy: Maintain quarterback consistency and control emotions