Courtside from day one: two decades of superfandom

5 – minute read

From the thrill of victory to the shared heartbreak of defeat, college sporting events have long created a sense of belonging and unity among fans. For over two decades, Florida Gulf Coast University basketball games have brought together students, alumni, employees and the local community.


As the women’s team heads to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in program history, FGCU360 chatted with some Eagles superfans who have been courtside since day one.

FGCU basketball superfans with the Liberty Bell
Tom and Kathy Roberts with Garry Long in Philadelphia for the 2022 women’s NCAA tournament. Photo submitted.

The Roberts family

Tom Roberts has worked at FGCU since 1998 — before the university had collegiate athletics. The College of Education professor was at Teco Arena (now Hertz Arena) for the first men’s basketball game Nov. 22, 2002.


“Since day one, it’s been a family affair,” he says. Although the Eagles lost that first game 90-98, that didn’t deter Roberts and his family. When Alico Arena opened on campus the following month, they bought season tickets in section G. He has faithfully attended men’s and women’s games ever since, often with his wife Kathy, their children and his father before he died.

Roberts is a wide-ranging Eagles superfan. “I’ve attended at least one event for all our 15 sport teams. I attend as many events as I can, especially senior nights and special events for student-athletes,” he says.


Roberts has served as the faculty athletics representative since 2016 and on the Athletics’ Hall of Fame committee. “I believe in the value of intercollegiate athletics. I love FGCU, and it’s extra-special having been a part of the growth and evolution of the university since our first year serving students.”

FGCU basketball fans
Tom Roberts is one of FGCU basketball's superfans. Photo: Nick Huenefeld.

The Yearys


Bill and Vernie Yeary moved from Ohio to Cape Coral in 1986. They’ve lived in the same condo since they arrived, just as their season tickets have been in the same Alico section since 2002.


“The first two years, it was just me and Vernie in the sixth row, but now we have five seats — four rows up from the bench, section R, seats six through 10 — for me, Vernie, our daughter, our son and his wife,” Bill Yeary says. “We believe it’s worth every penny. It’s the biggest bang for your buck for entertainment.”


While they’ve attended their fair share of volleyball, soccer, baseball and softball games, FGCU basketball has had their hearts since the first game.


“I can think of 10 games that we’ve missed, but I think we’ve made up for it with all the away games,” he says.


During a trip to Macon, Georgia, for a game several years ago, a tornado forced the Yearys to evacuate their room. They found Karl Smesko downstairs watching game footage on his laptop. He has coached the women’s team for all 22 seasons. “And I’ve been there with him every one of them,” Yeary says enthusiastically. That night in Macon, the Yearys played cards with players and their parents until the tornado passed.


What impresses Yeary most about FGCU’s student-athletes?


“The academics have to come first, and it seems to me that FGCU strives to have that.”

Garry Long


Academics came before athletics for the university — and for Garry Long. Long was working toward a master’s degree at FGCU before he and his late wife, Suzanne, bought season tickets.


Native Missourians, the Longs moved to Fort Myers in 1990 and attended men’s and women’s basketball games together until Suzanne died seven years ago.

“I’ve still got the first four seats in section R, row 10. My wife would not let me go any closer because I have a tendency to yell at the referees,” Long says.   


The Longs have traveled extensively to away games and were in Philadelphia for the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament when FGCU upset Georgetown University and earned the nickname “Dunk City.” The March Madness games became the biggest sports moment in FGCU’s history when the Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

FGCU basketball fan does Wings Up
Garry Long followed the women's team as they went to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience to be in a stadium that seats 21,000 people. Halfway through the second quarter, everyone in the stadium was rooting for FGCU — except the section for the Georgetown team. You could see everyone standing up for us. Same thing the next night when we beat San Diego State — everyone except them cheering for us,” Long says.


But Eagle fandom extends beyond any one game, instilling a strong sense of pride in all the university’s achievements and accomplishments.


In addition to basketball, Long says he’s attended events for every FGCU sport except cross country.


“I’m just an FGCU sports fan. I watched them grow from infancy to what it is today.”


As an alum, he regards FGCU as his family. “It’s just in my blood. I bleed Blue and Green. I’ve got so many friends and acquaintances, it’s just a highlight of my existence.”

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