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16 National Titles
By Robert Waldner
Mention Flagler College and it’s a good bet that sports aren’t the first thing that jumps to your mind. Known for being a stellar liberal arts college, the institution hasn’t really been known for its athletic achievement over the years. But, if you’ve been paying attention, the school’s steadily competitive rise from its humble beginnings proves that dedication and success run passionately through the veins of the Flagler faithful.
Flagler’s entrance into the collegiate sports scene began in the 1973-74 academic year; its athletic timeline started with teams in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s cross-country, men’s soccer, slow-pitch softball, men’s and women’s tennis, volleyball, and baseball. Joining the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in 1977, Flagler won five consecutive national titles in women’s tennis from 1987-1991 and made three consecutive trips to the NAIA men’s basketball national tournament from 2003-2005. Eventually Flagler outgrew the NAIA and transitioned to NCAA Division 2 in 2006. “We were stepping up in competition and moving up to NCAA Division 2 meant that we were making a bigger commitment,” says Dr. William Abare who was the school’s beloved President from 2001 until 2017. “We had to hire a Director of Compliance to make sure that we were meeting the rules and regulations of the NCAA,” he adds. Flagler College entered the Peach Belt Conference in 2009 and has since won conference titles in volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s cross-country, and both men’s and women’s golf. They have also made multiple national tournament appearances across various sports.
With the upgrade to NCAA Division II came the addition of Flagler’s inaugural Fastpitch Softball team. In 2008 Flagler College hired Kristen Overton, a graduate of The University of North Florida, to start the program and develop a team for 2009, Flagler’s first official season in the division. “That year we had a losing record, but we got stronger. Our first freshman class went to the National Championship as seniors in 2012.” Shortly after Overton joined the Flagler team, Athletic Director Dave Barnett retired in 2009 and passed the torch to his successor, Jud Damon. “Dave and Jud are great leaders. It wasn’t just about softball. It was about the growth of the school and the entire athletics program,” says Overton.
Crucial to the success of any higher learning institution is its leadership. Dave Barnett has embodied that leadership for Flagler College since 1987. Starting that year as Flagler’s baseball coach, he took on the dual role of Athletics Director in 1994. Since retiring from that post, Barnett continues to coach the baseball team. Prior to the 2018 season, he proudly displayed an overall record of 891-716. He is the winningest coach in the baseball program’s history. “I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to watch this sports program grow,” says Barnett. “In my very first year we played on a field with no dugout or bleachers.” In 1988, Flagler’s President Dr. William L. Proctor decided to move the baseball field to its current location at 1655 Old Moultrie Road, dedicated as Drysdale Field in 2011. “We had a lot of help,” says Barnett of his involvement in the construction of the field. “Understandably, athletics weren’t a top priority for the school at the time. We were fortunate to have friends in the community willing to help us build.” Now part of The Flagler Field Complex, with the later additions of Saints Field for soccer, Flagler Field for softball, and the Flagler Field locker Room Facility, the complex has undergone major renovations to become what is now considered to be a world class facility.
Another of Flagler’s veteran coaches is Bo Clark, who took the helm of the basketball team for the first time in 1982. He left in 1984 and returned to Flagler as head coach in 1988. When he retired at the end of the 2016- 17 season he had spent a total of 31 years at the institution. For Clark’s last home game on February 18, 2017, the basketball facility was dedicated as Clark Family Court. “I’m most proud of my lifetime relationships with my players,” says Clark. “I can’t remember if we beat Nova Southeastern in 1990, but I remember the names of all of my players that year,” he adds. Clark started his final season with a 481-362 record and retired as the most successful coach in Flagler College history.
Now under the leadership of current Athletic Director Jud Damon, Flagler College continues its impressive athletic ascent. “We are a character-based sports program focused on being nationally competitive in all of our sports.” says Damon. At the end of 2017, Flagler College’s student athletes had achieved eight consecutive semesters with a 3.0 or higher grade point average. Dr. Abare empasises that, “Flagler has always prioritized balancing academics with athletics.”
So look out, all those other collegiate sports standouts (you know who you are) — the Flagler College Saints are marching in.