When Betty Ling talks about her Gator Getters, most of what she says could just as easily apply to the Hawk Hunters, the Bengal Babes, the Hurricane Honeys, the Catamount Kittens or any other group of college recruiting hostesses.
But Ling, a 50ish woman who seems to have country-music lyrics written on her face, insists that her 45 University of Florida coeds are special. She would never include her girls among any of the aforementioned. Not among the Sweet Carolines, not among the Tigerettes. Not, God forbid, among the Garnet and Gold girls of Florida State. "I call it the Gator Gleam," she says of that quality that sets her charges apart. "If a girl doesn't gleam, I don't want her."
On every home football Saturday for the past eight autumns, Betty Ling has stood at her post just inside the glass doors that open on a carpeted lounge deep within Florida Field. In welcoming those raw high school stud recruits to Gainesville, she offers an important first impression of the school—before further, more lasting impressions are entrusted to the Gator Getters.
In the South, where hostessing is an old and honored tradition, one doesn't "talk" with strangers but "visits" with them. Give Betty Ling five minutes to visit, and she'll have settled on a Gator Getter for you. "If you're 6'6", she won't be 4'8"," Ling says. "I don't want to intimidate her or you."
August 30, 1987
But there will be someone. And when Betty Ling has a notion of exactly whom, she'll turn away from those glass doors, around to where her stable of Gator Getters are milling about, each in a white cotton blouse, a smart blue skirt and an electric-orange cowboy hat. Gator Getters wear the cowboy hats everywhere. The lassos are only implied.
Is that lineman a bit withdrawn? "Nicole!" Ling will call out, beckoning with an index finger to Nicole Cassisi, an animated public-relations major. Is that brainy receiver thinking of becoming a doctor? Betty summons Gelcys Montes de Oca, a raven-haired Miamian who's finishing her Ph.D. in pharmacology. Has that guy from the panhandle really been a Florida fan all his life? He's ripe for Lisa Spurrier, daughter of former Gator Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. Says Ling, "She's a cutie."
In fact, most are. But, as Betty Ling says, "Pretty'll only last so long." Gator Getters are poised, but, Ling says, "They come in all shapes and sizes. We got tall ones, short ones and wide ones. Hopefully, no obese ones." A Gator Getter can be the most fetching woman on campus, but she's of no use to Betty if she can't translate that fetching into some fetch. "We don't have posters or calendars of the girls," she says. "We're not trying to sell the Gator Getters. We're selling the University of Florida. Recruits fall in love with 'em, sure. But that's not why they end up coming here."
Of all the recruiting-hostess groups—and they exist not just in the South—the Gator Getters are perhaps the most famous. Founded in 1962 under coach Ray Graves, the group has survived student, feminist and reformist movements. Ling, who never went to college herself, was named head Getter in 1979. When NCAA investigators swooped into Gainesville a few years ago, hide-strapping the football team for flagrant recruiting violations in the Charley Pell regime, they imputed nothing improper to the Gator Getters, as Betty Ling is quick to point out.
Officially, most recruiting hostesses simply chat up prospects and show them around campus during the 48-hour NCAA-approved visits in January and February. And on those balmy football weekends in the fall when scores of recruits make unofficial visits, hostesses will greet and sit beside, prospects, something the coaching staff obviously can't do. In sum, they show recruits a good time short of the proverbial one. They may be playing off something else, but the only primal, three-letter urge hostesses are chartered to serve is spelled w-i-n. "If groups nationwide are anything like ours," says Sue Locklar, coordinator of Auburn's Tigerettes, "they deserve a lot of credit. Our coaches say these girls are the heartbeat of recruiting."
Hawk Hunters hunt Kansas Jay-hawks. Bengal Babes bag Clemson Tigers. Hurricane Honeys sweeten up prospective Miami Hurricanes. And Dog Catchers caught Mississippi State Bulldogs, until school officials decided the name was in poor taste. Now Bulldog Hostesses do the honors.
From Wake Forest's Deacon Darlings to Oklahoma State's Cowboy Coeds, from Western Carolina's Catamount Kittens to Alabama's Bama Belles, most names are alliterative, catchy and chaste. Husky Hostesses (Washington) aren't husky, the Californians (Cal) is not a TV miniseries, and Crimson-n-Cream (Oklahoma) is not a Tommy James and the Shondells hit. Each, however, is more descriptive than Georgia Girls. "When I tell people I'm a Georgia Girl," says senior Jill Rowell, "they go, 'Yeah? And?' "
North Carolina and North Carolina State settled playfully on Sweet Carolines and Stately Ladies, respectively. Until this season, Purdue had the Boilerettes, and Texas had Akers' Angels. But Texas has replaced coach Fred Akers with David McWilliams, and McWilliams's Angels just doesn't sing. So the next herd of Longhorns will be rounded up by the Texas Angels, while at Purdue, where Akers is now coaching, the Boilerettes will become Akers' Angels. If Fred Akers gets fired and rehired often enough, heaven is going to get awfully crowded.
Gator Getter Lisa Spurrier's dad, the new coach at Duke, has chosen Blue Angels over Devils Angels and Devils Advocates, hoping that Blue Angels can do for Duke football what The Blue Angel did for Marlene Dietrich.
If a lot of these names seem to have a slightly chauvinistic ring to them, it's not just because on many campuses some people think Gloria Steinem is a Latin drinking song. Most groups were named years ago by football coaches who sought to create demure and compliant ladies' auxiliaries. But isn't a name like Gator Getters a little...
"Suggestive?" Ling says. "Yes, it's suggestive. And we've thought about changing it. But the name is part of our tradition—just like the orange hats."
Of course, the very precincts that tend to exalt football often do the same with hostessing; to find names like the vanilla Hostess Program or the prehistoric Horned Frog Associates, young men must go west—to Stanford or TCU, respectively. "Our name implies complete business," says Horned Frog Associate Laura Modesett. "We've got nothing to do with lovely nights in the dark." Adds HFA adviser Lisa Grider, "No way we were going to be [coach Jim] Wacker's Wonders or Horned Frog Honeys. Names like that won't get the sharpest girls on campus."
And that's whom the very best hostessing groups attract. The ideal hostess is a pre-Yuppie, postfeminist young woman, into marketing and p.r., able and eager to sell her school. She's bubbly, but with natural carbonation, and has no hang-up about working for little or nothing. And she'll do what every coach loves—compete. "One girl, both of the guys she showed around this year went elsewhere," says former N.C. State recruiting coordinator Bobby Purcell. "One went to Clemson. She really took it hard."
But she bounced back. After all, she was a Stately Lady, and a Stately Lady always maintains her dignity. "I like our name," Stately Lady Laura Torres says. "I mean, what's a guy going to think when he's met by a Gator Getter?"
Just so no one gets the wrong idea, here's a primer for you college-bound gridders: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Hostesses (But Were Afraid to Ask).
Who exactly is she?
Frequently, a high school cheerleader who wasn't up to the more gymnastic tasks of collegiate cheering. She probably wanted some extracurricular niche other than the Model Rocketry Society or protesting the fate of East Timor. Sweet Caroline Rhonda Baker is typical. "I can't do the flips and splits," she says. "But it's nice to cheer and show some pep. And I wanted to be part of a close-knit group without joining a sorority."
How is she chosen?
By application and interview. Depending on the school, anyone from coaches and professors to coaches' wives and incumbent hostesses do the choosing. Extracurricular and academic achievement are important, but performance in the interview—"strong interpersonal communications skills" is the buzzphrase—weighs heaviest.
So, they 're carefully screened?
Very carefully. A Crimson-n-Cream hopeful might be flunked if she thinks a wishbone is what's left after a meal at Col. Sanders. At Georgia, coaches interview three at a time to see who shines in a group. And to test each applicant's knowledge of football, they ask questions. "But nothing hard," says Georgia Girl Cicely Walker, "like "Who's the quarterback?' "
The competition can be so fierce—the odds are longer than 15 to I against becoming a Tiger Hostess at Missouri—that these sessions often evolve into a sort of Gong Show. There was the aspiring Horned Frog Associate who was asked why she was studying art and music. "Oh, I don't know," she said. "I guess so that, the next time I go to Europe, it'll all make more sense." (Sound that gong.) And the prospective Crimson-n-Cream hostess who was asked what she would do if a prospect asked to go back to her room. "I'd call all my friends and make sure he had a good time!" (Get her outta here.)
Georgia Tech assistant AD Scott Zolke, who used to help the Yellow Jackets prospect for Solid Gold, tried to catch candidates off guard by asking each one to name her favorite organ. He got a lot of "heart," "lungs" and "brain" in reply. The one who said "Hammond" was a lock to make the squad.
So she's not a bimbo. Will she at least be a babe?
That's in the eye of the beholder or at least the recruiting coordinator. Every coach protests that looks aren't that important. Yet ask any of them who has the best-looking hostesses in his conference, and he'll say, "We do."
Some groups do, however, stick out. At Clemson the Bengal Babes' pulchritude goes two deep, perhaps because the players help choose them. At Missouri, Tiger Hostesses administrator Joe Castiglione says, "Appearance is important but isn't weighed heavier than anything else. Of course, if a girl hasn't washed her hair in two weeks...."
What do they wear?
Depends. Iowa State's Recruiting Aides have classy cardinal-and-gold rugby shirts. The Gator Getters go with that lightweight look, to deal with the 100-plus temperatures on the turf at a typical home game. The Stately Ladies, like many groups, have forsaken uniforms altogether. "You know how girls are," says Bobby Purcell of N.C. State. "If two of them showed up in the same outfit, both would go home and change."
Whom will I get?
Someone the school feels confident you'll relate to. It may be through a shared hometown, high school, academic interest or ethnic background. These days, black hostesses are in great demand, especially at Southeastern Conference schools, where the flavor of the Old South still lingers in the mostly white houses along sorority row, but where blacks have begun to dominate the skill positions on Saturday afternoons. Soon after Alabama integrated its football team in 1970, the Bama Belles followed suit to stay competitive.
Is she my date?
No. At least, not officially. Some schools are adamant on this point. "Tigerettes are never left alone with a prospect," says Auburn's Locklar. The Crimson-n-Cream have similar instructions. Says C-n-C Kim Dwyer, "When coach [Barry] Switzer says he's your dad, and talks about the family atmosphere, you're not going to go do something that makes your dad mad."
But we're dealing here with virile young male specimens on the one hand and on the other with an assortment of women who don't as a rule look like traffic accidents. "If they think a guy is cute, I tell them to wait till he enrolls on campus," says Dick Baird, who directs the Husky Hostesses. "But some dating goes on. It's a private business."
What about those stories I've heard?
You mean the stories you'll probably end up spreading? "For whatever reason, a lot of these groups don't have a good reputation," says Grider. "I don't know why. Those who aren't selected may say, 'Oh, they just sleep with football players.' And it's probably a macho thing for 17-year-old guys to go back to their high schools and talk."
A report in April—since exposed as a hoax—of Southern Methodist coeds' being paid to supply recruits with sexual favors probably didn't help. In fact, SMU is one of only three Southwest Conference schools without an official hostess group.
Well, what if she is overwhelmed by my boyish charm?
Not likely, even in this age of Joan Collins. Hostess group supervisors are constantly reminding their charges that they are sophisticated college women. Betty Ling's line is, "Why'd you be interested in a 17-year-old boy when you've got 150 men down on the field?"
Indeed, TCU's Cathy Coleman recalls seeing center Preston Nix, whom she had recruited, on campus the following fall and asking him how he was doing. He said, "Just fine, ma'am." Says Cathy: "I said he didn't have to call me ma'am, but I was happy he was doing fine anyway. He didn't think of me as a date; he thought of me as a mother."
You could, however, lay a little groundwork for that one fine day when you achieve BMOC-hood. "One guy I showed around asked me out after he came on campus the next year," Georgia Girl senior Dana Pike says. "I wasn't interested. But then he kind of grew up a lot, and I wouldn't have minded. Only by then he had a girlfriend."
What if I'm persistent?
You'll be in the obnoxious minority. One recruit asked Sweet Caroline Rhonda Baker, "If I come here, will you go out with me?" Rhonda could tell him she was engaged, but for those who aren't, the perfect response leaves a hint of possibility without the curse of obligation. The savvy hostess uses allure as a lure, up to a point. Tracey Ryan, a Washington State hostess, is not available. "But," she says, "it's not like you want them to know that. Let them come to school here and find out." Says TCU's Grider, "Our girls are trained not to be shocked or appalled, just polite."
So, they're trained?
Expertly. Horned Frog Associates have role-playing and brainstorming sessions. (Sample role play: "What to do if he starts hitting on you." Sample brainstorming topic: "Come up with 10 nonalcoholic things to do that aren't geeky.") Auburn Tigerettes attend two weeks of seminars covering everything from makeup to telecommunications skills, and receive a 68-page handbook.
Needless to say, NCAA rules are covered thoroughly. Your hostess won't knit you a gold lame sampler, or so much as fetch you a Coke. And although many hostesses do go on to become flight attendants, they won't be stepping off the school plane in your hometown to pick you up for your 48-hour visit. Ole Miss is on probation right now, partly because it permitted Rebel Recruiters to do just that.
"Our girls are too smart to give anyone any money," Grider says. "Besides, if they get any money, they're probably going to go out shopping."
So I'll be bereft of female companionship during the evenings?
Not necessarily. For your official visit you'll have, in addition to your hostess, a player host. He's the man with the plan. He'll likely introduce you to a wide cross-section of young women, including those who won't necessarily be bound to the hostesses' code of conduct. "A guy lookin' for that, he can find it," says Bengal Babes coordinator Clyde Wrenn. "He doesn't need any help finding it."
What if I come to a game with my girlfriend?
That's cool. Most hostesses are very sensitive to your high school sweetheart's feeling out of sorts in the company of their sophisticated selves and will be particularly solicitous toward her so she doesn't feel threatened. Several groups have some men in their ranks for just such situations.
Men are an interesting addition to the hosting phenomenon, and a likely growth area. On many campuses, like Oklahoma's, groups must be chartered to admit men and women in order to receive sanction as a student activity. The name Crimson-n-Cream is appropriately dualistic, and director Carole Dollins won't be surprised or disappointed if, to prove a point, the gay student organization sends a man to try out.
So what exactly does she do?
A lot. For starters, she'll give you a tour of the campus. The best hostesses will seek out that middle ground between being engagingly well informed and irritatingly know-it-all. Patty McCarthy, a Sweet Caroline, is president of her sorority and sharp as a tack, and will make big bucks with one of the Big Eight accounting firms someday. She can tell you that North Carolina's new graduate library is the largest in the Southeast, but, her major notwithstanding, she can't tell you exactly how many volumes it holds. Don't ask.
Tours can be trouble enough. "You're looking up the whole day," says Georgia Girl Dana Pike. "By the end, your feet and neck are sore." And things don't always go smoothly. A Solid Gold hostess once got a prospect and his family, including his nine-year-old little brother, locked in an athletic building stairwell. "You're Solid Gold," said the tyke. "You're supposed to know what to do."
So try to be understanding. And try not to be a mute Neanderthal, even if that means misrepresenting yourself. "We had one huge guy who didn't say a word," says Tracy Ballin, coordinator of Arizona's recruiting aides. "Finally he said, 'Just call me Booger.' We were all a little afraid of Booger."
Are they going to report back to the coaches on me?
Probably. "A lot of seniors in high school don't realize recruiting's a double-selection process," says TCU's Grider. "I pick you as much as you pick me. Our coaches would cringe to hear me say it, but it's not unlike sorority rush."
Some recruits, on their best behavior around the coaches and players, go native once they're turned over to the hostesses. Coaches will want to know who started the food fight in the student union. "The girls' input is really important," says N.C. State's Purcell, who debriefs weekly. "They'll tell me, 'Oh, he's real humble. He asked about academics a lot.' Or, 'This guy's really a jerk. All he talked about was how great he is.' "
In a spirit of helpfulness, three Stately Ladies offer these guidelines: You're a jerk, says Lee Ann Keeney, if you "take your program and make paper airplanes out of it"; or, says Laura Torres, "if you act crudely at parties"; or, says Lisa Dyson, "if you second-guess the coaches from the stands." All these things actually happened, fellas, and N.C. State's Mata Haris reported each. Mind your manners, or you may end up having to walk on at Rhode Island.
Wait a minute. So the hostesses and coaches consult? What are the coaches telling them about me?
If you're a Parade All-America, the hostesses will know it in advance. (Act humble and they'll really be impressed.) Many have read the Saturday sports pages to find out whether you won or lost last night, or did something that might warrant a little flattery. (Humility is in order here, too.) And they're told anything that might forestall a gaffe. "If we know a guy's a party animal," says Husky Hostess Isabelle Bryant, "we won't take him to church on Sunday."
What else do they do?
Many send follow-up notes on Monday. Coach Grant Teaff, who has refused to start a group at Baptist Baylor, says he has seen notes that read, "Dear Jack: I enjoyed having you here. I'm deeply in love with you. I'd like you to come to our school." If you receive one of these, feel free to take the first and third sentences seriously.
The Solid Gold tidy up closets around the athletic department. Sweet Carolines do at least two hours of filing a week in the football office, and the Texas Angels keep scrapbooks for senior players. No one darns socks.
Oklahoma just finished a stunning recruiting year, and Crimson-n-Cream hostesses helped cinch it with their work over a recruiting weekend in which Norman was hit with its worst blizzard in memory. Hostesses staged an enormous carnival for the recruits. It featured a beanbag toss, a player talent show and a special Dunk-the-Idiot booth, in which Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth took turns in the dunk tank. Fourteen of the 33 recruits visiting that weekend signed with the Sooners. "Recruiting," says Crimson-n-Cream's Dollins, "is a very creative process."
So, why do these girls do all this? There must be something in it for them.
For most, there isn't more than a group picture in the program, perhaps a trip to an away game and some p.r. experience that will come in handy down the road. The Bengal Babes can use Clemson's football tutoring program, and the Stately Ladies can cop Sudafed from the team doctor if they get a cold. "It's not a case of them getting stuff out of us for nothing," insists N.C. State's Kelly Stephenson. "When alumni come in to talk to senior players about jobs, coach [Dick] Sheridan makes them available to the Stately Ladies, too." But nothing quite matches the deal offered the Bama Belles, who receive $175 off tuition and fees per semester.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has come to this. There is such a thing as a hostessing scholarship.
As long as players like Washington lineman Dennis Brown continue to attribute their college choice to a hostess (kudos to you, Husky Hostess Danielle Washburn), and until the NCAA figures out how to regulate eyelash-batting, schools will continue to field their hostesses. "It's a recruiting tool now, just like posters, only you can't send posters anymore," says Grider. "Or bringing in your old stud football players, only you can't use alumni anymore, either."
But no one will ever mute the color in the Gator Getters' electric-orange hats. Speaking of which: Betty, have you heard about the Garnet and Gold Girls' new outfits? Florida State alum Burt Reynolds is getting Loni Anderson's and Cybill Shepherd's Hollywood designer to do them up.
"Like I said," Betty Ling says, "we're not selling the Gator Getters; we're selling the University of Florida.
"But we just may have to get Mel Tillis to make us some cowboy boots."