A Gator Country tribute to Mom

photo related to this article

Thank God for mothers. For all of us who have suited up to play the game — any game, at any level — Mom is at the source of our being. Moms are our biggest fans when we make the big play. When things don’t go as expected, they are our voice of reason. Regardless, of the outcome, they are our most vocal supporters.

Whether it is rides to practice or game day, Mom has always been ready to lend a hand, an ear, and most importantly, a smile. And we are always thankful for Mom.

One fleeting glance into the stands at any University of Florida athletic event will allow you to witness a venue filled with supporting moms. On this Mother’s Day, we’d like to take a moment to share four very special moms with you. It’s not so much who they are as much as what they represent to each of us.

Join us in celebrating their involvement in the Gators’ success. You’ll likely see just how your own mother, grandmother, wife, girlfriend, and/or daughter also play a role in the success that is Florida athletics.

* * *

What was seemingly the beginning of a typical spring morning was anything but. Patti Johnson was suddenly awakened to the sound of music coming from a CD player. This music had accompaniment. Bouncing into her room were her two sons, Flynt and Todd. They playfully danced to the music and wished her a Happy Mothers Day.

The routine served not only as an hilarious awakening on a special day of recognition — it was a clue.

“They asked me what I wanted for Mothers Day and I said that I wanted tickets to see the play “Mamma Mia.” at the Tampa Bay Center for the Performing Arts,” she said. “They got me tickets to the play and even went and picked up the “Mamma Mia” CD at the store for me. They used that to let me know what they had gotten me. Watching them dance around like that was hilarious. That was probably the most fun I’d ever had with a Mother’s Day present.

“We had never been there before. Unfortunately, my daughter Kristen wasn’t living here, but the boys and I went and really enjoyed it. We had such a good time and were so impressed that we still go the shows.”

Motherhood has been a tremendous joy for Patti. She has been blessed with three wonderful children and is a proud grandmother. To say that sports have played a large role in her life is a vast understatement. Sports are a way of life- and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

All of her children have played. All were successful. Todd Johnson took it to the collegiate level and is currently playing professional football for the St. Louis Rams. His four years playing for the Gators created a definite love for the Orange and Blue that is shared by the entire family.

“I’ve been a season ticket holder at Florida since Todd graduated,” Patti said. “Every summer I have to set my schedule. I have to see the high school schedule, the Gators schedule, and see what city Todd is playing, before I know where I’ll be that weekend.”

So, what is the greatest reward of motherhood?

“I would say, having them (her children) turn into my best friends”

* * *

The Florida experience has been a massive whirlwind for Carla Fayson since her son Jarred suited up for the Gators this past season. The Tampa native has seen her son move away from home for the first time in his life, suffer through an injury, and go through a bout of homesickness.

Jarred has claimed a Southeastern Conference and national championship to his ever growing resume. He is expected to play a prominent role in the high flying Florida offense this fall. She too has grown into the experience.

“Coming from someone that knows nothing about the game and I’m not professing that I know a lot about the game now,” Carla exclaimed. “I get so excited. I want to know what is going on with this person, who is that person, how is this person doing, what’s happening during the season, what’s happening during the off-season. I find myself watching football on the weekends when I never did that, even when Jarred played high school football. Half of the time, I didn’t even know what was going on. This is so exciting. It’s so live and I just can’t wait. Now, when I go to the store the first thing that I’m looking for is Orange and Blue. It’s like an addiction.”

Carla has numerous co-workers who cheer on the Gators. She constantly has people come up and ask what is happening with the program. She gets the E-mails, calls, and plenty of opportunity to share information at the water cooler, as well. In fact, one of her co-workers who happens to be a Florida State fanatic taunted her about the fact the Gators would not be number two at the end of the year. (I suppose Ohio State was the only choice for number one) Recently, Carla brought Jarred’s national championship ring to work and politely told him that he was right … Florida didn’t finish in the second position. This ring represented the team occupying the top spot.

She is developing a friendship and bond with the parents of other Florida players. That will grow in time, just as it did for Patti Johnson as Todd grew up in the Florida program.

“I love all of those coaches over there,” she said. “They do what they say they are going to do as far as I’m concerned. They really show concern for the player. They show concern for the player’s family. They want to see that everybody is happy. If you have a problem, you can talk to them. That’s especially important when you have a child who is away from home for the first time. Those coaches sat here in our house and told us that they were family oriented and that they care about the players as a person, you say, “Yeah, sure.” Well, that’s true. My experience has been that if I have a question or concern, they always get back with me and address my concerns. It’s comforting to me knowing that if I’m unavailable for whatever reason, Jarred can talk to one of those coaches and they will have his best interests at heart.”

“I just love the way that we communicate with each other,“ she added. “I don’t think that we could ask for better people to be involved in our children’s lives and that makes me feel even more comfortable knowing Jarred made the right choice when deciding on Florida.”

* * *

Kim Hays spent four years after high school working in an office for orthopedic surgeons. She determined that her future was in the field of medicine. The daughter of a very successful high school football coach, the Georgia native grew up with a strong love of sports. An incredibly strong love of sports.

Yet despite being born in The Peach State and bred to support the Bulldogs, Kim doesn’t have a degree from the University of Georgia hanging in her home.

“The University of Georgia did not have a nursing program and I’m so glad they didn’t,” Kim stated. “I probably would have gone there. My sister had already come to Gainesville and gone to UF. She suggested that I apply and I did. It was only three hours from my hometown, so I did and I was accepted. I decided to go and join her. I suppose that I could have been one of them (Georgia fan). I just felt as though I wasn‘t meant to be one of them.”

Kim was accepted into the University of Florida’s nursing program and completed her degree and fully evolved into a rabid supporter of everything Gators’. She has lived in Alaska, Arizona, as well as, her native Georgia.

“My fondest memories at Florida by far are of Saturday afternoons in the fall,” she said without hesitation. “Sports is number one. I loved going to the basketball games, gymnastics meets, volleyball matches, whatever. I really enjoyed it all, but football was my favorite.”

There are two games that Kim remembers most vividly as either a Florida student or working in Gainesville. One is the Gators 17-16 upset win over Auburn as quarterback Kerwin Bell hobbled in to lead Florida to the win. The other is the Gators 17-9 victory over Southern Cal in 1982.

“Wilbur Marshall had such an awesome game,” Kim recalled. “That game stands out because the stadium just roared for the defense. I remember how great the defense was back then. That game was so very exciting.”

“I remember living in Alaska and driving a car on the Alcan Highway. There was a car in front with a Gators tag. I went wild. There is a lot of Gators’ pride here in Georgia.

Kim remains an avid Florida fan. She has tremendous knowledge of the game and follows everything from recruiting to spring practice. However, she has had to curb her appetite for the game.

“Back years ago before the internet became such a big sensation, I made a decision to stop subscribing to one of the publications, because I was so consumed with what was going on with our program. I had to discipline myself. I had a friend tell me that I had to do some fasting from a football game during the season. No ESPN, no internet, nothing. So, I picked the Vanderbilt game. My son Harrison or husband, Jeff will call me and give me a little hint as to what is happening still. I just get consumed by it. It’s really sick,” she said laughing.

* * *

Following the Florida Gators inspires Helen Sharron of Panama City. She never attended the school. Neither did any member of her family. But, like the other members of the family, she is all Gator.

Ask any of her co-workers, customers, family, and friends. Without hesitation they will quickly point out that wearing the Orange and Blue is like wearing a badge of honor for the Sharron family and as the matriarch, Helen leads them all..

“It’s been so many years now, I’m not exactly sure how I came to be a Gators fan,“ Helen said laughing. “I like football. From the very first time that we saw them years and years ago on TV, we liked them. John like them and went to all the games. My sons, Larry and Dennis went to the Gators Football Camp many years ago. When things were down I stuck with them and now they’re on top, I’m just so proud.”

She has been to a lot of Florida football games. In fact, while on an extended family trip to the mountains, the trip took a detour. A couple of one of the tours had tickets to the Florida-Tennessee game and they would not be able to attend. Her son Larry bought them and she and her sons watched the Gators defeat the Volunteers. Her sister couldn’t believe they were going to a football game while on vacation. To them it made perfect sense.

Is there a game that has meant so much?

“I don’t know what it was about it,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of games, but one was so special. The Southern Cal game in Gainesville really stands out. There was so much energy in that stadium, it was just unbelievable. Of all the Florida games that I’ve ever seen- that was just so uplifting. Wilbur (Marshall) was everywhere. Watching Coach (Charley) Pell run around the stadium thanking the fans after the game was just amazing. I got so much out of that game. It was more than just a game, it was like a bowl game. Bigger than abowl game. It was just unbelievable and it is something that I’ll never forget.”

Sadly, Helen lost her husband John many years ago. Dennis unexpectedly passed away a couple of years ago. Furthermore, her daughter, Pat is courageously battling cancer.

Larry, Pat, and her oldest son Mike get together for every Florida game in one way or another. They make it a point to get together on those Saturday’s in the fall. If they can’t be together- they call each other at the half and talk about the game. Dennis was always a part of the group, which really makes it a mixed blessing- difficult, yet comforting.

“This past year, it was like he (Dennis) was here with me watching the Gators,” she said. “It brought back so many good memories. He did love the Gators. The last game that we saw together was when we all drove over for the Orange and Blue Game. The Gators inspire me a lot. Every time something happens like winning all of these championships- it just touches my heart and it’s like he’s always with me.”

* * *

So, there you have it, four outstanding mothers. One had a son star for the Gators; another whose son is a rapidly rising star; another who graduated with a four year degree from Florida and thankfully spends her day helping those in pain; and yet another, who has never attended a class at the University of Florida, but has galvanized a community toward taking a moment to stop and consider the greatness of our state’s flagship university.

Special thanks to Patti, Kim, Carla, and Helen for helping make the Gators’ program so successful in each of their ways. Please keep each of them in your thoughts and prayers. Happy Mothers Day, ladies — your love, support, and patience is a very important part of the Florida program.