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FSU softball team learns about Seminole culture in Big Cypress

The FSU softball team, Chobee AMP 12U and 14U teams, Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie and other tribal members gather for a photo to commemorate FSU’s visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress on March 25, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Florida State University teams all sport the Seminole name on their uniforms, but softball coach Lonni Alameda wanted her players to learn more about the tribe itself, so she arranged for the team to visit Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on March 25.

“We represent something bigger than just softball and our university,” said Alameda, who is in her 14th season at the helm. “When you get to put a meaning with a name, it give us a bigger purpose.”

FSU, which won the national championship four years ago and finished runner-up last season, is in the midst of another outstanding season. With a 29-2 record, FSU is ranked third in the nation, but the team put aside softball to spend an afternoon on the Big Cypress Reservation learning about the tribe before heading to Miami to face Florida International University.

Mahala Billie, left, assists FSU softball third baseman Sydney Sherrill with holding an alligator during the team’s visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress on March 25, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“We want them to learn more about the tribe’s culture and history,” said Kyle Doney, a FSU graduate, member of the university’s alumni association board of directors and deputy director of the tribe’s Native Learning Center. “A lot of students aren’t privy to trips like this and it’s beneficial for them to know about us. And tribal members get to meet a nationally ranked softball team.”

The visit began with a story told by museum director Gordon “Ollie” Wareham. A storyteller by nature, Wareham was animated and filled with sound effects and emotion as he told the legend of the box turtle and the rabbit.

“The rabbit is a trickster,” Wareham told the group. “He’s our bad guy and teaches our kids how not to be and what not to do.”

FSU alumni Kyle Doney, left, and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum director Gordon “Ollie” Wareham talk to FSU softball coach Lonni Alameda during a tour of the museum on March 25, 2022, in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The story was a lesson about hubris and humility. During the tale, Wareham had the team add to the sound effects.“The story was told to me by my aunt, Carol Cypress, who was told the story by George Billie,” Wareham said. “We became one people during the Seminole Wars and survived because of these stories.”

After a tour of the museum, the team walked on the boardwalk to the ceremonial grounds where they watched Billie Walker wrestle an alligator and enjoyed a traditional lunch that was provided by Big Cypress Councilwoman Marian Billie’s office. Executive assistant Marlin Miller-Covarrubias and other staff prepared Indian tacos, fried alligator, pumpkin fry bread, banana fry bread, a three sisters salad and sofkee.

“We wanted them to have a great experience here and have a chance to show the world who we are,” Wareham said. “They will take this back to school with them and share our culture and traditions with their classmates.”

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum educator Cypress Billie leads the FSU softball team on a tour March 25, 2022, in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly BIdney)

The Chobee AMP 12U and 14U softball teams met the team at the ceremonial grounds and had the opportunity to get their softballs signed by the players. The FSU players also had a chance to hold a small alligator.

By coincidence, FSU pitcher Danielle Watson is from Osceola, Indiana, a small town about two hours east of Chicago. She doesn’t know why her town is named after Osceola – a heroic warrior for the tribe during the Seminole Wars – since it wasn’t taught in her local schools, but she was happy to learn about the tribe.

“More about it should be taught,” Watson said. “[The Seminoles] did a lot for their people. It’s interesting that they have different clans, that is super cool.”

The players appeared moved by what they learned at the museum; many didn’t know about clans.
“It’s interesting that you can’t marry within your clan and that the male goes to the female’s clan,” said first baseman and pitcher Mack Leonard. “It’s very different from our patriarchal society.”

During lunch, the players shared what they learned.

Chobee AMP player Jalene Smith gets a softball autographed by FSU outfielder Kiersten Landers as Kulipa Julian looks on during FSU’s visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress on March 25, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“Representing something other than ourselves is really cool,” said outfielder Hallie Wacaser.

Alameda believes it will be important for the upperclassmen to share these stories about meeting the tribe with younger students. She believes it is more impactful to learn about the culture first-hand than through books.

“Taking this all in and understanding what the tribe and their culture is, is a really cool thing,” said shortstop Josie Muffley. “What we are wearing isn’t just a symbol for us, it has real meaning.”

FSU alumni Kyle Doney gets a kick out of the small gator held by FSU pitcher Kathryn Sandercock as Jonah Walker helps out during the team’s visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on March 25, 2022, in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
FSU softball player Sydney Sherrill poses with Kulipa Julian from the AMP Chobee team March 25, 2022, at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Billy Walker talks about alligator wrestling to players from the FSU softball team during the team’s visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress on March 25, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at