When Betty Ling talks about her Gator Getters, most of what she says could just as easily apply to the Hawk Hunters, the Bengal Babes, the Hurricane Honeys, the Catamount Kittens or any other group of college recruiting hostesses.
But Ling, a 50ish woman who seems to have country-music lyrics written on her face, insists that her 45 University of Florida coeds are special. She would never include her girls among any of the aforementioned. Not among the Sweet Carolines, not among the Tigerettes. Not, God forbid, among the Garnet and Gold girls of Florida State. "I call it the Gator Gleam," she says of that quality that sets her charges apart. "If a girl doesn't gleam, I don't want her."
On every home football Saturday for the past eight autumns, Betty Ling has stood at her post just inside the glass doors that open on a carpeted lounge deep within Florida Field. In welcoming those raw high school stud recruits to Gainesville, she offers an important first impression of the school—before further, more lasting impressions are entrusted to the Gator Getters.
In the South, where hostessing is an old and honored tradition, one doesn't "talk" with strangers but "visits" with them. Give Betty Ling five minutes to visit, and she'll have settled on a Gator Getter for you. "If you're 6'6", she won't be 4'8"," Ling says. "I don't want to intimidate her or you."
But there will be someone. And when Betty Ling has a notion of exactly whom, she'll turn away from those glass doors, around to where her stable of Gator Getters are milling about, each in a white cotton blouse, a smart blue skirt and an electric-orange cowboy hat. Gator Getters wear the cowboy hats everywhere. The lassos are only implied.
Is that lineman a bit withdrawn? "Nicole!" Ling will call out, beckoning with an index finger to Nicole Cassisi, an animated public-relations major. Is that brainy receiver thinking of becoming a doctor? Betty summons Gelcys Montes de Oca, a raven-haired Miamian who's finishing her Ph.D. in pharmacology. Has that guy from the panhandle really been a Florida fan all his life? He's ripe for Lisa Spurrier, daughter of former Gator Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. Says Ling, "She's a cutie."
In fact, most are. But, as Betty Ling says, "Pretty'll only last so long." Gator Getters are poised, but, Ling says, "They come in all shapes and sizes. We got tall ones, short ones and wide ones. Hopefully, no obese ones." A Gator Getter can be the most fetching woman on campus, but she's of no use to Betty if she can't translate that fetching into some fetch. "We don't have posters or calendars of the girls," she says. "We're not trying to sell the Gator Getters. We're selling the University of Florida. Recruits fall in love with 'em, sure. But that's not why they end up coming here."
Of all the recruiting-hostess groups—and they exist not just in the South—the Gator Getters are perhaps the most famous. Founded in 1962 under coach Ray Graves, the group has survived student, feminist and reformist movements. Ling, who never went to college herself, was named head Getter in 1979. When NCAA investigators swooped into Gainesville a few years ago, hide-strapping the football team for flagrant recruiting violations in the Charley Pell regime, they imputed nothing improper to the Gator Getters, as Betty Ling is quick to point out.
Officially, most recruiting hostesses simply chat up prospects and show them around campus during the 48-hour NCAA-approved visits in January and February. And on those balmy football weekends in the fall when scores of recruits make unofficial visits, hostesses will greet and sit beside, prospects, something the coaching staff obviously can't do. In sum, they show recruits a good time short of the proverbial one. They may be playing off something else, but the only primal, three-letter urge hostesses are chartered to serve is spelled w-i-n. "If groups nationwide are anything like ours," says Sue Locklar, coordinator of Auburn's Tigerettes, "they deserve a lot of credit. Our coaches say these girls are the heartbeat of recruiting."
Hawk Hunters hunt Kansas Jay-hawks. Bengal Babes bag Clemson Tigers. Hurricane Honeys sweeten up prospective Miami Hurricanes. And Dog Catchers caught Mississippi State Bulldogs, until school officials decided the name was in poor taste. Now Bulldog Hostesses do the honors.