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Sunday, March 07, 2021

South Carolina recognized its women athletes. UF should, too.

Florida has a few deserving athletes who fit the bill

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Three days ago, the University of South Carolina unveiled a statue of Gamecocks legend A’ja Wilson in front of its basketball court, Colonial Life Arena.

The three-time All-American led South Carolina to a national championship in 2017 and was the first-overall pick in the WNBA Draft just a year later. It was deserved. 

South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said in a release that it was Wilson’s accomplishments both on and off the court that led to her enshrining as a Gamecock legend.

The statue was officially revealed on Martin Luther King Day, and Wilson discussed its significance and relation to social justice. 

“My grandmother couldn't even walk on this campus,” Wilson said in a Zoom call. “If she was here today to see her granddaughter has a statue where she once could not walk ... it goes to show how you just plant seeds, and that's what it's all about."

Recognizing athletes’ accomplishments with effigies cast in bronze is the terminus to immortality. 

I’m glad to see the Gamecocks honoring one of its best athletes. And I believe there are women in UF’s history that deserve to be — and should be — enshrined in such a way as well.

Florida’s Heisman winners, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, are recognized with statues outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium because they earned it through achieving greatness in a Gator football uniform. But it’s time that we recognize our female athletes, too, just as South Carolina did. 

Some alumni fit the bill. After all, some of UF’s most legendary athletes were women.

We can start with Lisa Raymond.

Raymond was almost comically dominant in college. She’s easily the greatest collegiate singles tennis player of all time, finishing her collegiate career with an 84-4 record, winning 95.4% of her matches.  Aside from winning a national championship with the Gators in 1992, Raymond extended her success beyond college,  becoming No. 1 in the world in doubles in 2000 professionally. She defeated six former world No. 1 singles players over the course of her career, including Venus Williams.  

Holding her No. 1 title for 137 weeks and winning 11 total doubles Grand Slam titles, Raymond is more than qualified for a bronze statue at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.

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Then, of course, is Abby Wambach. The list of Wambach’s accomplishments could be a novel, and it wouldn’t tell the whole story. 

She won a college title with the Gators in 1998, just three years after the soccer program was established. Wambach, along with fellow All-Americans Erin Baxter, Heather Mitts and Danielle Fotopoulos, ensured that the Gators’ soccer team under Becky Burleigh would be a hotspot for young soccer players looking for an opportunity to succeed at the college and professional level. 

Since that championship, the Gators have been to the NCAA Quarterfinals four more times and have won the regular-season SEC title nine more times. 

Wambach is a FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, a women’s FIFA World Player of the Year recipient, two-time Olympic gold medalist and 2015 Time 100 member. She’s second in international goals all-time with 184 — for both men and women. Wambach isn’t just one of the greatest Gators of all time: She’s one of the greatest soccer players ever to walk the planet, period. 

There would be few better reminders to opposing teams of the program’s pedigree than having a statue of one of the sport’s all-time greats outside the Diz for all to see come game day.

In the vein of Wilson’s monument, it’s hard to ignore the accomplishments of DeLisha Milton-Jones. Milton-Jones, currently the head coach at Old Dominion, led Florida to the NCAA Tournament every year. Her senior year, she was named an All-American and won both the Wade Award and Honda Sports Award, given to the best Division I women’s college basketball player.

Outside of her college career, Milton-Jones played in the WNBA for 17 years, winning two championships with the Los Angeles Sparks. The three-time WNBA All-Star also won a gold medal with Team USA in 2000 and 2008.

Women athletes at UF have been some of its most legendary figures. South Carolina took a big step in recognizing A’ja Wilson, and hopefully, more schools — including UF — aren’t far behind.

Contact River Wells at rwells@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells



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