Pat Williams, the man considered the father of the Orlando Magic, headlined a stellar class of 10 new inductees to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. The enshrinement ceremonies were held at the Amway Center on Nov. 12 in front of nearly 800 patrons.
“Without question, the Amway Center was the most fitting place to welcome this class that included both Pat Williams and former Magic player Nick Anderson,” outgoing FSHOF President Barry Smith said. “Without Pat Williams there would be no Amway Center, there would be no Orlando Magic and in all reality there would be no professional sports in Orlando.”
Williams, who spearheaded efforts in 1989 to convince the NBA that Orlando was indeed a viable expansion candidate, would then spend the next 30 years serving the organization in various roles — including general manager and vice president. He was voted one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history.
Anderson was the first draft pick in Orlando Magic history and fittingly was the first inductee of the night. He told the crowd he was deeply “honored and humbled” by the honor. He also thanked Williams and other Magic officials for making Orlando his home.
Former Florida Citrus Sports Executive Director Chuck Rohe was inducted for his 20-plus years of service to that organization, where he elevated a relatively minor bowl game that became a highly-coveted post-season destination, earning the moniker “Best Bowl Trip in America.”
Under Rohe, Florida Citrus Sports championed stadium expansion, brought NFL preseason and “big-time” neutral site games to Orlando, created a “Big 10- SEC” tie-in to the bowl game, and founded the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation, which benefits the disadvantaged and under-served youth of Central Florida. Rohe thanked his staff for making the accomplishments possible while noting his famous office motto of “If better is possible, then good is not good enough.”
LPGA legend and Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam used her induction time to speak on the importance of sports in society and how it teaches you “how to handle failure.” She noted how that as a shy young player she would sometimes would miss putts and lose on purpose because she wanted to avoid the attention the winners received but would later learn the importance of always doing your best.
She added that she was able to accomplish everything she ever wanted to do in professional golf as a player and that led to her retirement at a relatively young age.
“I wanted to start a family and I wanted to work on my foundation to help young players around the world,” Sorenstam said.
Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke told the crowd of his decision to turn down a scholarship at Florida State in order to sign a professional baseball contract.
“I’m not stupid. I looked around and saw a team with Casey Weldon, Brad Johnson, Charlie Ward and Kenny Felder on it and didn’t see a lot of playing time in my future, but after I signed the baseball contract, Coach (Bobby) Bowden promised me he would hold a scholarship open for me if the baseball thing didn’t work out. I was so thankful he did. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Weinke would enroll at FSU as a 26-year-old freshman, would become a three-year starter, lead FSU to a national championship as a junior and win the Heisman as a senior.
Two-time World Series Champion and Altamonte Springs native Jason Varitek accepted his induction by insisting that his Little League coach Jay Williams and his college coach Jim Morris join him on the stage, thanking both for their helping him “to never accept mediocrity.”
Other inductees included former Stetson baseball coach Pete Dunn, Florida Southern College volleyball icon Lois Webb, Tampa Bay Rowdies goaltender Winston DuBose and former Gator linebacker David Little (posthumously). Former UCF and Minnesota Vikings star Daunte Culpepper was also name to the class but elected to postpone his induction because of scheduling issues.
Next year’s class will be announced next summer and the enshrinement ceremonies are scheduled for the south Florida area.