In the past, when prospective athletes came to visit Florida Gulf Coast University, coaches were quick to show recruits the Eagles’ NCAA tournament and conference victory banners along with the athletic facilities, condo-like student living and, of course, the palm trees.
But, as Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh said, visits to the weight room facilities were either skipped or given when “nobody was in there.”
Now that’s changed, thanks to a $1 million gift from Jim and Donna Sublett. The Sublett Family Strength & Conditioning Center for athletes is part of $16.4 million in contributions to grow the Eagles’ athletics program as well as expand Alico Arena.
Just when FGCU was finally in a position to show off its state-of-the-art weight room, the coronavirus pandemic prevented universities from having students visit campus; FGCU recruiters could only send pictures. But when they’re allowed to resume tours, the weight room will be one of the first places shown instead of the last.
“It’s an impressive facility when you walk inside,” FGCU women’s basketball coach Karl Smesko said. “We have a great university and a beautiful campus with great athletic programs. And now we have a first-rate weight room that is a big part of team development because that’s something recruits are looking for.”
Wearing masks, FGCU’s 250 athletes have been using the new weight room for about six weeks. The Sublett center is part of improvements on the west side of the arena. Previous improvements on the east side of the facility include the Schreiner Family Sports Medicine Center, the Hartley Academic Resource Center, enhanced administrative spaces and a state-of-the-art film room for coaches. The third phase of improvements will be locker rooms.
Jim Sublett, who died in March 2019, was a local businessman. He and some associates bought out a division of McGraw Edison and formed Toastmaster, Inc., later selling it to Magic Chef. After retiring to Southwest Florida, he ventured into the homebuilding business. Sublett was a mentor to many in the Southwest Florida business community — and a big fan of FGCU basketball!
“Donna and I consider it an honor to be of assistance to the university by providing a gift for the new strength and conditioning facility,” Sublett said in a news release before his passing. “Many FGCU student-athletes will continue to bring honor and recognition to the university, partially because of the excellent new facility to fine-tune their bodies, skills and talents. We feel blessed to be able to do this. Go Eagles!”
The Subletts were the first to make a seven-figure donation to FGCU’s athletics department back in 2015. Since then, several major donors have contributed to facilities improvements, including million-dollar donors Dean and Janie Schreiner, Mike and Karen Harley, and Chris and Brianne Sale.
“Our alumni base is so young,” noted Kavanagh. “If it wasn’t for the Subletts, Schreiners, Hartleys and Beales (Linda and John), we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
The Sublett Family Strength & Conditioning Center can accommodate more than 100 athletes once the novel coronavirus restrictions end. There are 16 squat racks with more weight-room equipment on its way. On the walls are photos of former FGCU athletes as well as motivational messages.
“We can go from the court to the weight room in like 30 seconds. It’s perfect, super nice,” FGCU basketball player Caleb Catto said. “We can’t thank the Sublett family enough for their impact on FGCU athletics. It’s more than we can ask for. We are sincerely and genuinely grateful.”
Swimmer Tori Czarnecka, one of three swimmers from Poland, said she can’t think of any facilities in Europe she’s been in that are comparable.
“It’s amazing, like the greatest thing that could happen to us,” she said. “We finally have a lot of space and can practice all together and not separate into groups. It’s enormous.”
Czarnecka said teammates can encourage each other, boosting momentum to make that last lift.
“All that teamwork and motivation is really nice,” she said. “We can count together. We’re closer.”
Smesko said returning players love the new facility and appreciate the vast improvement.
“To get a team to work out in a restricted area was very, very difficult. We were so overcrowded and spread out to different areas where one coach couldn’t see everything,” he said, adding, “What they have now is not twice as nice, but 100 times as nice!”
The general FGCU student population also is enjoying use of a brand new fitness facility which opened on January 21, 2020, at the south end of campus near the freshmen dorms. Before coronavirus precautions forced a temporary closure mid-March, nearly 5,200 FGCU students had tried out the new facility in its first two months. In addition, there were 4,112 participants in group fitness classes during that time. The facility re-opened for fall semester on Aug. 10.
“A dedicated student facility increases enrollment and increases retention,” said Amy Swingle, director of campus recreation. “It helps redefine culture. It’s a place they call their own. They can take a break from classes, meet new friends and live healthier lifestyles.”
FGCU Basketball Begins this Month!
FGCU Basketball non-conference games begin this month. Get ticket information by visiting www.FGCUAthletics.com or by calling 866-FGCU-TIX. Below are scheduled home games. Please check the FGCU Athletics website for the most up-to-date information, as schedules are subject to change. ASUN Conference games begin Jan. 2.
Men’s Basketball (non-conference):
Nov. 25 vs. Florida A&M
Nov. 30 vs. Ave Maria
Dec. 5 vs. Dartmouth
Dec. 16 vs. FIU
Dec. 19 vs. Bethune Cookman
Dec. 22 vs. Georgia Southern
Dec. 30 vs. Webber International
Men’s Basketball ASUN:
Jan. 2 vs. Kennesaw State
Jan. 9 vs. Stestson
Jan. 21 vs. Bellarmine
Jan. 23 vs. Liberty
Feb. 11 vs. Lipscomb
Feb. 13 vs. North Alabama
Feb. 25 vs. North Florida
Feb. 27 vs. Jacksonville
Women’s Basketball (non-conference):
Gulf Coast Showcase Nov. 27-29 at Hertz Arena
Nov. 27 – Maryland/Iowa State
Nov. 28 – Missouri State/Wake Forest
Nov. 29 – Memphis/Davidson
Other non-conference games:
Dec. 1 vs. Ave Maria
Dec. 6 vs. Temple
Dec. 15 vs. Webber International
Women’s Basketball ASUN:
Jan. 2 vs. Kennesaw State
Jan. 11 vs. Stetson
Jan. 23 vs. Bellarmine
Jan. 25 vs. Liberty
Feb. 13 vs. Lipscomb
Feb. 15 vs. North Alabama
Feb. 27 vs. North Florida
March 1 vs. Jacksonville
By Craig Handel
Photos by Brad Young/FGCU