Gaither gym’s legacy lives on

In what was known as a “Farewell to Gaither Gymnasium,” alumni, students, and Rattler fans gathered to reminisce and enjoy the festivities as they witnessed the finale of a brilliant history of spirited showdowns in Gaither gym.

The final two home basketball games in the historical Jake Gaither Gymnasium were this past Saturday and Monday. The facility has hosted some memorable competitions and other events since its completion and dedication in the spring of 1962. 

The gym was named in honor of the renowned football coach and athletic director, Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither. 

Gaither, who passed away in 1994, is remembered as a humble person despite his success. 

“He had a great personality,” said Alvin Hollins Jr., the sports information director for FAMU.  “He was well known in the community and all around the state.”
Gaither gym has hosted many championships in basketball and volleyball including an NCAA D-1 volleyball opening round tournament in 2004 featuring Stanford and the University of Florida, which is a rarity in Historically Black Colleges & Universities’ athletics. 

Although the new FAMU Teaching Gymnasium will host most future games and functions, Gaither gym will still stand.     

“Gaither gym is not going to be torn down,” Hollins said. 
Hollins said volleyball will still hold matches and other teams would continue to workout in gym.  “It was really more of a basketball goodbye,” he said.

Since the days of Coach Edward Oglesby from the 1960s to the present time, great feats by distinguished Rattler basketball players have dominated Gaither’s court.  Willie Collier, during a 1963 game against Bethune-Cookman, scored a school record of 53 points. 

Rattlers who went on to the NBA from Gaither include rebound champions, Clemon Johnson and Jerome James. 

Gaither also witnessed a dominating women’s basketball team with Coach Mickey Clayton’s Rattlerettes of the 70s.

“We had a span where we actually beat Georgia Southern, Florida and Florida State all in one week,” Clayton reminisced.  “We led the state of Florida in attendance, we were in the top ten in the southeast United States.” 

Clayton’s Rattlerettes regularly packed Gaither gym with crowds of over 2,000 spectators. These zealous crowds were very menacing to opponents. 

“When we lined up in our press the whole gym stood up as one like a church choir and [opponents] got intimidated,” Clayton said. 
Hollins agreed.

“That facility, when the atmosphere is right, can be one of the most intimidating facilities in college sports,” he said.

Natalie White, who accumulated 624 steals between 1992 and 1995, was among the returning standouts that came for Monday night’s final games and spoke to the players. 

“They really inspired us to leave Gaither with a win,” said Deidra Jones, 22, a guard for the Lady Rattlers.

Gaither gym will continue to stand prominent on the campus of FAMU and house the memories that were created in it.  People though are eager to move on to the new facility and establish a legacy there. 

“The new facility is such a testament to the university,” Clayton said. 

Jones acknowledged Clayton’s enthusiasm about the new facility.

“We’re excited to move over to the new facility,” Jones said.

Jones also remembers the “blackout” ceremony as her best memory in Gaither Gym. 

“I just felt like it was a good way to close it out,” Jones said.