Road to the Triple Crown: 1980-1981

A Digital Exhibit Created by Amy Skillen, Archives Technician

In the 1980-1981 season, Florida Southern College Athletics won three NCAA Division II Championships in Men’s Basketball, Men’s Golf, and Baseball for the first and only time in college history. At the time, a triple crown had been accomplished only four other times before by other schools. Head coaches Hal Wissel, Charley Matlock, Joe Arnold, and Athletic Director Hal Smeltzly helped lead the teams to this historic feat.

Joe Arnold (standing, left) was the head coach of Baseball from 1977 to 1983. By the time he had left, Arnold had accumulated a 316-69 (.821) record, 4 Sunshine State Titles, 6 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division II College World Series, and 2 NCAA Division II Championship wins in 1978 and 1981. He also won the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year award in 1978 and 1981 as well. Arnold was inducted into the FSC Hall of Fame in 2003 and the College Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 2015. His uniform number, #11, has been retired.

Hal Wissel (standing, center) coached the Florida Southern Men’s Basketball team from 1977-1982. During his time here at Florida Southern, Wissel had a 105-49 winning record and won 4 Sunshine State Conference titles. He was named National Coach of the Year in 1981, inducted into the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame in 1997, and inducted into the FSC Hall of Fame in 2003.

Charley Matlock (standing, right) coached the Florida Southern Men’s Golf Team from 1972 until 1995. In his 23 seasons here, the golf team won 7 NCAA Division II Championship titles and three of his players would win NCAA Individual Championship titles as well. Multiple players of Matlock’s also went on to become successful players themselves, some of whom played on the PGA Tour. Matlock was inducted into multiple Halls of Fame: the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame in 1992, the FSC Hall of Fame in 2002, and the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Charley Matlock passed away in 2016 at the age of 86.

Hal Smeltzly (seated) was Florida Southern’s Athletic Director, a role he began in 1978 and would hold until his retirement in 2000. Prior to that, he had been the Baseball head coach, starting right after his graduation from Florida Southern in 1957. He won three NCAA Division II Championships during his time as head coach, and he also served as manager for two Team USA teams (1972 and 1975). During Smeltzly’s tenure as Athletic Director, the Mocs won over 20 NCAA Division II Championships, including the Triple Crown. Smeltzly is a member of multiple Halls of Fame, including, but not limited to, the FSC Hall of Fame, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, and the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame. His uniform number, #7, has also been retired. Hal Smeltzly passed away in 2018 at the age of 86.

September 1980

Baseball Fall Training Underway


Baseball fall training began early on in the school year. Over the summer, the team had lost five players to professional teams, but they were still looking forward to the future. The fall training also included the team's first-ever Fall season out-of-state trip to University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

 

October 2 - October 4, 1980

Men's Golf Season Begins


The season was off to an optimistic start after the team had placed second the last two seasons (1978-1979 & 1979-1980) at the NCAA Division II Championships. The team was led by senior Tom Patri who was determined to win the championship as well as beat Division I schools.

 

November 24, 1980

Men's Basketball Season Begins


The season was off to a strong start with the Mocs winning 3 of their first 4 games, including a win at the annual Citrus Tournament. Co-captains John Ebeling and Cesar Odio led the team.

 

November 24, 1980 - January 10, 1981

A Rough Start to the Season


Despite a strong start in their first few games, the Mocs end up going 5-7 across their first 12 games.

 

January 17 - March 14, 1981

Turning the Season Around


After the rough start, the Mocs go 17-1 for their next 18 games on their way to the NCAA Division II Finals.

 

February 25, 1981

Baseball Season Starts


After a series of Spring exhibition games, the Mocs won 6 of their first 8 games. Three co-captains led the team: Craig Gero, Mike Piatnik, and Jimmy Jones.

 

March 6 - April 1, 1981

The Black Swan


During their 1981 Championship run, the FSC Baseball team had a lucky charm – a Black Swan that lived on Lake Morton. The swan would bob its head every time as the team bus passed, and the team would win. The Mocs won 28 times in a row before one day, the swan refused to bob its head. The team tried to get the swan to bob its head by circling the lake multiple times, but it refused to do so. The team ended up losing that game and breaking their winning streak on April 1. Despite the loss, this record-breaking winning streak still stands to this day.

 

March 21, 1981

Men's Basketball Team Win Their 1st NCAA Division II Championship


The win in 1981 was the first NCAA Division II Championship title for the Men’s Basketball team. Not only that, it was also the first national title for a Florida college basketball team. Dick Vitale served as an announcer for the game as one of his first assignments for ESPN.

MVP John Ebeling (not pictured) played from 1979-1982 and went to 3 straight Final Four appearances with the Mocs. During his time here, he set 15 school records, and he is still the all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Ebeling was named MVP two years in a row, 1981 and 1982. In 1982, he was also named NCAA Division II Player of the Year. He was part of the inaugural class into both the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame in 1992 and the FSC Hall of Fame in 2002. His jersey number, 31, has been retired.

To see footage from the final moments of the game and the post-game interview with Dick Vitale, please click here.

 

March 23, 1981

Movin' Mocs National Champions Day


Lakeland Mayor R. Larry Turnipseed declares March 23, 1981 as Movin' Mocs National Champions Day in honor of the Basketball team's NCAA Championship win.

 

May 22, 1981

Men's Golf Team Win Their 1st NCAA Division II Championship


The 1981 Championship win was the first of many for the Men’s Golf team. The next year, in 1982, the team would win another championship win and begin a trend of back-to-back championships titles. The Men’s Golf team have had five back-to-back wins in total: 1981 & 1982, 1985 & 1986, 1990 & 1991, 1995 & 1996, and a triple back-to-back in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

MVP Tom Patri (second from left) played for two seasons at Florida Southern College. In his junior year (1979-1980), he was the runner-up NCAA Division II Individual Championship as well as part of the runner-up team for the NCAA Division II Championship title. In 1981, he would win both the NCAA Division II Team Championship and the Individual Championship. After his time here at FSC, Patri went on to have a successful career in coaching. In 1992, he was inducted as part of the inaugural class into the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame, and in 2004, he was inducted into the FSC Hall of Fame.

 

May 26, 1981

Men's Baseball Team Win Their 5th NCAA Division II Championship


The win in 1981 marked the Baseball team’s fifth Championship win as well as the tenth anniversary of the team’s first win in 1971. To date, the Baseball team has won 9 NCAA Division II Championship titles and made 44 NCAA post-season appearances.

MVP Mike Tanzi played for Florida Southern for two years and is one of only four pitchers to have pitched a complete game (where the starting pitcher plays the entire game without using a relief pitcher). Tanzi was the winningest pitcher for the 1981 season as well as the pitcher with most appearances. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1981 and inducted into FSC’s Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

 

September 1981

Homecoming


The start of a new academic year saw the recognition and celebration of the feat that these three teams had achieved.