Fan Support

Nov. 8, 2004

(From left to right): Fred Pruitt JU Athletic Association chairman and John Harrison.

They've enjoyed floor seats at JU basketball games since the 1980s. They've gotten so addicted to the excitement of watching Dolphin games that they now have a hard time enjoying their season tickets in the stands at Florida Gator games.

"Basically, I love JU and I love athletics," said Fred Pruitt, who married his sweetheart Debbie as a JU freshman and earned an undergraduate degree in 1968. During his career in retail banking, Pruitt earned a master's as a member of JU's first Executive MBA class. Pruitt's heart has been at JU for more than 35 years. He still wears his JU ring. So when John Harrison '67 approached him about serving as chairman of the JU Athletic Association, he accepted enthusiastically. Everyone knows that Pruitt's passion for Dolphin athletics will serve him and the University well in his role as chairman.

Harrison had been asked to head a steering committee to reestablish the athletic association to support JU's athletic programs. He then contacted 11 potential members, all of whom said yes and felt it was long overdue. "They understood the need of having an organization in place to gather the support necessary to enable our athletic teams to be competitive, " he said.

"Athletics is very important to the health of an institution," Pruitt said. "It acts as a window to the community, and does a lot for the vibrancy of JU. We want the JUAA to be a fun group that brings fans back, and provides support to the coaches, players and students."

Pruitt and the fledgling Athletic Association have gotten full support from JU's new president, Dr. Kerry Romesburg.

"I've been very impressed with the president," Pruitt said. "I met with him on his second day on the job. He told me that he and his wife love sports and want to see it thrive here. It was everything a Dolphins supporter would want to hear."

Distinguished Alumni Harrison agrees. "In my dealings with President Romesburg, I have been encouraged by his understanding of the value athletics brings to the campus community and the community at large."

While raising money to support athletics is a key function, it is only one of the board's goals. The 21 members of the umbrella organization will work together with the JU athletic director to establish needs. They are expected to make or be willing to solicit donations and serve on a marketing or events committee. Terms are set at three years, with a limit of two consecutive terms to promote a flow of people. Harrison said they looked for diversity including age, gender, race and sports interest to ensure a broad perspective. Pruitt is confident that the reformed JUAA will receive wide support.

"I think that there are a lot of people out there just like me who want to see JU sports boom," he said. "Timing is everything. The new president is giving us an opportunity to put the spotlight on athletics and therefore the rest of the school. Hopefully we'll get the same enthusiastic response from those who want to be involved as we have with those asked to lead the effort."

Grady Jones, vice president for institutional advancement, is proud of the group's progress.

"We started by asking the coaches for supporters and broadened our search from there," he said. There was no arm-twisting."

Board Chairman-Elect Jim Dalton cited a different motivation behind his willingness to step up to the plate. Dalton, a 1984 graduate, acknowledged that he hasn't been involved at JU since he was a student. In the meantime, he has built an enormously successful advertising business that resulted in The Dalton Agency being named the official advertising and public relations agency for Jacksonville's Super Bowl.

"My business has matured which gives me the time, and being involved in fundraising for the Super Bowl has gotten me to take a look at what is good for Jacksonville," Dalton said. "Education is so important. It's a big part of what makes a city great."

With this new perspective, Dalton said, he recognized that JU needed a bigger presence.

"We have a real chance to make JU a premier university, but we need more awareness in the community," Dalton said. "After hearing the plans for reviving JU, I saw how important athletics is for building the life of the university."

Dalton sees the role of the JUAA as a means to an end. "I think it's a natural to expand athletics," he said. "Our initial goal is to build the athletic fund, so we can provide more money to the programs. Sports have a lot of needs in their facilities. In the past, athletics was paid for out of the operating budget, but that's not how most universities do it. We need to support athletics through separate fundraising efforts."

Thanks to great volunteers, the JUAA is now the vehicle to do that.