HOLLYWOOD —Before they joined their teammates for postgame pizza in the airnasium, Florida State University softball players Anna Shelnutt and Jessica Burroughs soaked up the final moments of the team’s trip to the Hollywood Reservation. They realized that their fall exhibition game carried far greater significance than the final score.
FSU had just walloped Florida International University in front of about 125 spectators who filled the grandstand at Osceola Park on Oct. 23. The final score – 14-0 – didn’t mean much compared to the historic moment that marked the first time a Florida State Seminoles sports team played a game on a Seminole reservation.
“It was a great experience to be out here on actual Seminole land,” said Shelnutt, a freshman catcher from Georgia. “It … made us think who we’re playing for and what we’re representing.”
The team, which won the Atlantic Coast Conference and played in the Women’s College World Series last season, made the most of its two nights in Hollywood. The Seminoles stayed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, took batting practice at Osceola Park on the morning of Oct. 22 before defeating rival Florida in Plantation, and learned about the Tribe and its history through chats with Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola, Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Thomlynn Billie and Ollie Wareham.
“It was cool to get a little bit of background about who we play for, what’s across our jersey every day, and it adds some pride to our game because now we’re not just out there playing, but we’re playing for people who have been fighting and have made such a huge impact down here,” said Burroughs, last season’s ACC Pitcher of the Year who tossed a shutout against Michigan in the World Series. “It’s really cool to get out there and play for them and to get them to be part of our family just like they’ve opened up and let us be part of theirs.”
“I think we got a good education as to when this reservation was founded and when people started coming here and living here,” said FSU coach Lonni Alameda. “We got a little education on kind of the unconquered spirit, but also the unconquered Tribe and what that means.”
Alameda said the idea for playing a game on the reservation came about through her conversations with Tribal members Doug Zepeda and Wareham.
“I thought it would be really cool to educate the girls a little bit about the Seminole Tribe. [Ollie] said ‘we have a field down here,’” Alameda said.
Alameda joined Councilman Osceola in the pitcher’s circle for the ceremonial first pitch. With FSU players lined up on the first base line and FIU on the third base line, Councilman Osceola delivered a strike to catcher Sydney Broderick.
The teams started the game without umpires. The first inning was played on the honor system. At one point, FSU batter Carsyn Gordon checked with the FIU catcher to confirm the count. By the time the umpires arrived at the start of the second inning, FIU’s Stephanie Texeira had already notched the game’s first hit – a double – and FSU slugger Alex Powers belted the first of her two home runs, a two-run shot over a temporary outfield fence in right-center field.
Powers delivered a three-run shot in the fifth that gave FSU at 6-0 lead. A grand slam from Sabrina Stutsman in the seventh stamped an exclamation point on a victorious and educational weekend for the Seminoles.
“It worked out,” Alameda said. “The weekend was perfect.”
After the victory the Seminoles gathered in right field and received a brief postgame talk from Thomlynn before the players gathered for a photo with the Jr. Miss Florida Seminole. Thomlynn then sought as many of the players’ autographs as she could get on a softball.
As for the upcoming season that starts in February, FSU will try to defend the ACC title and take another shot at winning a national championship. Last season the Seminoles won a couple games at the World Series but were narrowly ousted with a pair of one-run losses. They are eager to return.
“A few years ago we got to the World Series and we lost out the first two games. Finally, we got back and made a run for it,” Burroughs said. “I think now we have the experience to come back and really push and go all the way. We have great leadership on this team and the freshmen have bought into everything that we’ve been working for.”