LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (Nov. 30) – In recognizing its resilience and its indomitable spirit in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Tulane University football team has been chosen for the 2005 Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award, which is given annually to college football’s most inspirational student-athlete or team. Disney’s Director of Sports & Recreation Planning and New Event Development Kellen Winslow, an NFL Hall of Famer, will present the award to Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo and seniors Matt Traina (Coral Gables, Fla.) and Brandon Spincer (New Orleans) as part of ESPN’s live broadcast of The Home Depot 2005 College Football Awards at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday, Dec. 8. The 15th annual awards show is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. ET.
The Tulane University football team was selected for the 2005 Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award after Hurricane Katrina devastated the team’s home city of New Orleans in August, forcing the program to abandon its campus. As a result, Tulane has played 11 games in 11 different stadiums, including “home” games in six different cities, and endured countless logistical challenges in an effort to fulfill the request of university president Scott Cowen to “carry the torch, be the face and represent the name” of Tulane University.
“The Tulane University football team handled these incredibly difficult circumstances the same way we would hope that we would if faced with the same challenges – with fortitude, resolve and unwavering optimism,” said Disney Sports Attractions Vice President Reggie Williams, a former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker. “Their determination amid such extraordinary circumstances is a testament to the character and leadership within their football program, and is reflective of the very ideals that led us to create Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award.”
The Tulane football program, which consists of 120 players, coaches and staff, evacuated New Orleans on Aug. 28, one day before the hurricane hit New Orleans in what was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. The team endured a 10-hour bus ride to Jackson, Miss., where players slept on air mattresses in the Jackson State University gym for two nights -- one of which was spent without power or running water.
Because of worsening conditions in Jackson, the team was eventually forced to relocate again to a hotel in Dallas where it used facilities provided by Southern Methodist University, including a weight room and dining facilities. Throughout the ordeal, players and coaches anxiously watched daily news reports from New Orleans while not knowing the fate of many friends and family members still in the hurricane-devastated areas.
With the fall semester canceled at Tulane, the school’s athletic teams were split up among four universities in two states with the football team moving from Dallas to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La. There, players were housed in a dormitory that had been closed for more than a year for renovations. A banquet hall in Louisiana Tech’s basketball arena was converted into a makeshift locker room, although there were no actual lockers.
With the team’s Sept. 3 season-opener at Southern Mississippi postponed due to the hurricane damage sustained in Hattiesburg, Miss., Tulane finally played its season-opener and first “home”game at Independence Stadium in Shreveport on Sept. 17 against Mississippi State. The Green Wave lost 21-14, however the team bounced back with two straight wins over SMU and Southeastern Louisiana despite the many off-field challenges the players still faced because of the hurricane. Tulane also played home games in Baton Rouge, La. (Oct. 1 vs. Southeast Louisiana), Lafayette, La. (Oct. 8 vs. Houston), Ruston, La. (Oct. 14 vs. Texas-El Paso), Mobile, Ala. (Oct. 29 vs. Marshall) and Monroe, La. (Nov. 19 vs. Tulsa).
“In coaching, we all stress to our players that adverse situations make stronger student-athletes and stronger people,” said Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo. “This group of players exemplified the ability to overcome adversity and to persevere through the largest national disaster in our nation’s history while representing themselves, our city and our university. I appreciate the people from Disney for recognizing these players and coaches with this year’s Spirit Award.”
Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award is presented annually to college football’s most inspirational individual or team. The Tulane University football team becomes the tenth recipient of the Disney Spirit Award, joining past honorees Daniel Huffman (1996), Dwight Collins (1997), Matt Hartl (1998), East Carolina University (1999), Hameen Ali (2000), the United States Service Academy football teams (2001), Dewayne White (2002), Neil Parry (2003) and Tim Frisby (2004).
Huffman, a high school player in Rossville, Ill., sacrificed a promising football career to donate a kidney to his ailing grandmother. Collins, a native of Lake Charles, La., overcame his loss of hearing to meningitis at 11 months of age to earn a scholarship to the University of Central Florida as a running back. Hartl, from Denver, Colo., battled Hodgkin’s disease throughout his college career as a fullback at Northwestern University before succumbing to the illness in August 1999.
The East Carolina football team finished the season in the national rankings after overcoming the floods and devastation that affected the entire eastern North Carolina community during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Ali overcame a troubled youth and poverty-stricken conditions to earn a football scholarship and a degree from William & Mary. The U.S. Service Academy football teams from Air Force, Army and Navy collectively received the 2001 Disney Spirit Award in recognition of their academic, athletic and military commitments following the tragic events of Sept. 11th.
Dewayne White suffered the loss of his parents, two house fires and serious injury before matriculating to the University of Louisville where he earned school records for career sacks and tackles for loss, as well as the 2002 Spirit Award. Neil Parry overcame the amputation of his right leg to return to San Jose State to play in six games for the Spartans, while 39-year old Tim Frisby, winner of last year’s Spirit Award, followed a career in the Army by pursuing a life-long dream to play college football at South Carolina.
In commemoration of the Spirit Award’s 10th year as part of the Home Depot College Football Awards, the Tulane University football team will receive the newly designed Disney’s Wide World of Sports Spirit Award trophy. The new trophy, rivaling the more magnificent awards in college sports, will be presented at this year’s awards show on Dec. 8.