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Graduate students worried about UF’s plans to demolish housing units STUDENTS EXPRESSED DISAPPOINTMENT WITH THE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

By Carolina Ilvento Alligator Staff Writer

Chasity Maynard // Alligator Staff

Onna Meyer, 43, twirls a hula hoop around her arm during the Swamp Records 2021 Showcase at Heartwood Soundstage on Saturday, April 3, 2021. Read more in The Avenue on pg. 6

UF community honors Huixiang Chen at a vigil The event honored the life of the international graduate student By Alexander Lugo Alligator Staff Writer

More than 30 people marched from Norman Field to Tigert Hall as the sun set Thursday with a banner that read “End Workplace Exploitation For All.” Nearly a year and a half after international UF doctoral candidate Huixiang Chen died by suicide in his on-campus lab, UF’s Graduate Assistants United held a vigil in front of Tigert Hall to honor his life. Chen’s body was discovered in Benton Hall June 14, 2019. The 30-year-old’s death has led to accusations against his adviser, engineering professor Tao Li, regarding abusive behavior and academic misconduct. UF said it has been investigating the case since July 2019. Graduate Assistants United, a labor union for UF’s graduate employees, received Facebook messages from Chen’s friends, who were worried about his safety, prior


to his death. In Chen’s suicide note, which was published following his death, he wrote that a research paper he co-authored with Li contained inaccurate results and his career would be impacted if it were published. Li pressured Chen to proceed with the publication anyway, placing immense stress on Chen, according to the note. UF placed Li on paid leave Feb. 15, according to a letter obtained by WUFT News. He is prohibited from conducting UF-related work, visiting campus and talking to UF students or faculty; however, he remains employed at UF, receiving an annual salary of $153,238, according to UF’s 2020 fiscal analysis. Li was placed on leave following an independent investigation conducted jointly by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. The exact reason why he was placed on leave is still

Payton Story description Richards finish almost withhad comma, to quit pg# gymnastics because of a tumor doctors found when she was 12. Years later, she’s become one of the most recognizable faces of the gymnastics team, pg. 11

unclear. When asked to clarify why the university placed him on leave, UF spokesperson Hessy Fernandez wrote in an email that UF does not discuss ongoing investigations. The vigil was partly an expression of frustration at the abusive behavior some graduate students face from their mentors. A group of about 34 people attended the vigil held in front of Tigert Hall, UF’s administration building. They left a framed picture of Chen along with notes to the university administration on the steps of the building’s entrance conveying their feelings about Chen’s ongoing case. GAU President Bobby Mermer read four demands for UF regarding its handling of the investigation on the steps of Tigert Hall. The demands included releasing a target date for the conclusion of the investigation, the release of the company names conducting the investigation, a statement detailing the preliminary findings so far and confirmation that results will be released when the investigation ends. In November, GAU gained the power to trigger a university


Worker shortage

Emily Fahey worries about where she would raise her daughters if UF demolishes Maguire Village and University Village South, two of the five graduate and family housing complexes on campus. She lives at Maguire Village with her husband, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and their 2- and 4-year-old daughters, Penelope and Hermione. They appreciate being able to take the girls to a playground 10 feet outside their house — something that cannot be found in a complex for undergraduate students. “If they remove graduate housing, they are going to make UF less attractive to families like mine who want to be able to have a family life while they pursue a higher education,” Fahey said. Fahey, 35, is not the only graduate housing resident who felt unheard and devalued by UF after hearing its plans. In October 2019, the university announced the campus housing plan with a proposal to tear down two of the five graduate and family housing complexes at UF, stating the buildings were falling apart and too costly to repair. The plan proposes 38% of undergraduate beds be renovated or replaced with new ones in the next decade. Meanwhile, graduate housing capacity will be cut by a third with no plans to construct new buildings. President Fuchs will attend a Graduate Student Council meeting Wednesday to discuss housing plans and listen to graduate students’ concerns. Fahey is worried about finding a place off campus compatible with her budget and lifestyle if graduate housing is reduced. The average cost of studentoriented housing one mile from UF’s campus is $1,000 per person per month, according to Board of

Some businesses in Gainesville are struggling to hire staff as business increases with vaccine expansion, pg. 4

UF vaccines

UF opens vaccines to all students and staff, pg. 8

Trustees data. But graduate family housing costs about $605 per person per month. The average graduate assistant salary at UF is about $23,000 per year, according to Graduate Assistants United, UF’s union for graduate employees. Paying for off-campus housing would leave only 48% of their monthly income for expenses other than housing. According to the US Census Bureau, rental prices exceeding 30% of a household’s monthly income are considered cost-burdened; anything over 50% of the income is severely burdened. “We want to be able to bring our best academic selves to UF, make UF look good and make UF a top 5 university,” Fahey said. “But we can’t do that if this vital service of safe affordable family housing is taken away.” In 2018, Gainesville had the second-highest percentage of households spending most of their income on rent in Florida behind only Punta Gorda, on the West coast of Florida, according to a Harvard housing cost study. Nearly 40% of the city’s population pays more than half of its monthly income in rent, according to the study. While campus housing and construction were among the main topics of discussion during the UF Board of Trustees meetings March 18 and 19, little was mentioned about the graduate student living experience. Three graduate students participated in public comment and emphasized their disappointment in the university’s decision to demolish these buildings. Graduate Student Council president Jonathan Orsini spoke at the Board of Trustees meeting to highlight graduate students’ stress levels and the importance of affordable housing. He referenced a 2018 study from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that showed the search for affordable housing is a huge burden to graduate students, and students who have to worry about it are unlikely to pursue a graduate degree.


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Man finds racistWeather message toward Today’s Asians at Gainesville Nissan Dealership THE DEALERSHIP DECLINED OWNERSHIP OF THE HATEFUL MESSAGE ON A SANITIZING BOTTLE

By Jack Prator Alligator Staff Writer

A local car dealership is trying to make amends after a customer found an anti-Asian message written on a sanitation bottle inside the store. Larry Katz went to the Gainesville Nissan dealership Saturday to get his airbags changed when he found a clear hand sanitizer bottle with a racist slur for the COVID-19 virus written across it in black ink, according to a photo posted on Facebook. While Katz waited, he found the bottle sitting on a salesman’s desk. In the post, he wrote he confronted the receptionist and a salesperson before leaving. Katz, who is Jewish, said standing up for any marginalized group was important to him. “We really have to fight this as best we can,” he said. Clovis Watson, sales manager at Gainesville Nissan, said the hateful message does not reflect the store’s core values. Watson said no employees sit at the sales desk where the bottle was found. The desk is empty and the computer doesn’t work. Watson called the incident a “sick joke,” and said he asked his staff if anyone saw the person

who left the sanitizer. No one did, and he doesn’t believe the message was written by one of his employees. Watson said if he finds out the bottle was put out by an employee, that person will be fired. “There's no racists here,” he said. “I don’t tolerate that.” Documentation of Asian hate is on the rise across the nation. Reported hate crimes against Asians in the largest U.S. cities were up 145% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. This is seen in incidents of unprovoked acts of violence toward Asians, such as shoving, beating and killing. Asian families across the country have been associated with the “China Virus,” a slur used by former President Donald Trump in reference to the COVID-19 virus. In Gainesville, students and residents protested this rise in anti-Asian hate. More than 200 people attended a march at Depot Park March 27 and about 100 rallied against the recent violence at four city street corners the week before. Jeannette Peters, a friend of Katz, recalled how Katz felt upon discovering the hateful message.



By Manny Rea Alligator Staff Writer

UF is offering COVID-19 vaccines on campus for students, faculty and staff. The university opened ONE.UF pre-registry March 30 for the UF community to receive their first or second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Monday, which is in accordance with the governor’s expansion of eligibility to ages 16 and up. On Monday, about 5,000 vaccines will be distributed at the Champions Club section in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where mass vaccination efforts have been held in the past. UF does not plan to mandate the vaccine for future semesters, but other schools like Nova Southeastern University near Fort Lauderdale, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Cornell University have attempted to mandate it with different results. The Florida governor issued an executive order Friday barring businesses from requiring COVID-19 documentation; in turn, Nova Southeastern University had to wind back vaccine requirements for students that would have been effective Aug. 1 in order to comply.

UF cannot mandate vaccines unless the governor and the Florida Department of Health do, Dr. Michael Lauzardo, the head of UF Health’s Screen, Test and Protect program, said. Yet students are eager to get the shot. Originally, Julia Dawson, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore, hoped to get the vaccine this Summer, but the time to schedule came sooner than expected. She is set for noon Monday to get the vaccine she’s anticipated since she first heard about it last year. “I’m really happy that I will be able to do that because UF was on top of it,” Dawson said. “Being able to not have to stress about possibly getting [COVID-19] or quarantining sounds really nice.” Sarah Bhatt, a 20-year-old UF public relations sophomore, will re-

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“His twin daughters are Chinese, and this experience has really upset him and his wife,” Peters wrote in a Facebook direct message. Watson, whose father is Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr., said he was no stranger to racism growing up in Alachua County. He said as a Black man, he sympathizes with the Asian American community. “A lot of people are going through a lot of pain right now,” he said. Around 5 p.m. Saturday, Katz posted an update on Facebook and wrote that he spoke with Watson, and Katz’s family will meet with Watson next week in an effort to make amends. “I felt that this was a very heartfelt apology and he wants to make it right,” he wrote in a Facebook direct message. @jack_prator jprator@alligator.org

ceive her vaccine 2:30 p.m. Monday. She is prepared to rest for the next couple of days if the vaccine causes any tiring side effects such as fatigue, which happen to some people according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bhatt is optimistic for guidelines like masks and social distancing to be relaxed once everyone has received their second doses of the vaccines. “I am really looking forward to seeing people's faces and actually being able to register their emotions and see their smiles,” Bhatt said. “It’ll be nice to really get to know people a little bit better.” @ReaManny mrea@alligator.org

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Restaurants and hotels face staff shortages, small applicant pool THE ONGOING ISSUE HAS ESCALATED SINCE THE START OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

By Lucille Lannigan Alligator Staff Writer

When Gainesville’s SpringHill Suites by Marriott reopened job applications at the beginning of the year – only about 15 people applied and three were hired but quickly quit. They applied, went through the interview process and then didn’t show up for work. Rebecca Lamb, sales director at the hotel off Archer Road, said some new employees would come in for their first day on the job and then quit in the middle of their shift. “It’s like a revolving door,” she said. Other Gainesville businesses, like restaurants, are facing the same problem. Small business owners are struggling to bring back former employees, and others face small applicant pools of mostly inexperienced workers. The shortages come as COVID-19 vaccines enable Americans to return to public spaces — only to find them understaffed. Some owners point to COVID-19 unemployment benefits to explain the lack of applicants, while others blame low wages and mistreatment from customers. The labor shortage has become a statewide issue as pandemic restrictions are slowly lifted and restaurants try to regain their footing after a challenging year. Last April, Lamb had to furlough about 20 of the hotel’s original 29 employees. She said the remaining staff — about four man-

agers, along with desk clerks and housekeepers — worked to keep the property running amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The managers, working on a 30% pay cut, had to take on extra shifts to fill in for missing staff. About a year later, the staffing gaps remain. The hotel asked its furloughed employees to return at the start of 2021, and only a breakfast hostess came back, Lamb said. “People just don’t want to work,” she said. Lamb worries stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, such as weekly checks of up to $275, are discouraging some people from returning to work. As of April 4, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity received more than 6.5 million claims for reemployment assistance since last March. Lamb expects staffing shortages to continue as long as people receive financial assistance from the government. With fewer customers, the worker shortage didn’t create too much pressure in the first few months of the pandemic, she said. However, it’s been more difficult to operate since business increased in March. “All of us feel exhausted and frustrated because we’re having to pick up the slack,” she said. Restaurant owners feel the staff shortages are an ongoing issue worsened by the pandemic. Danny Hughes, an owner of Loosey’s Downtown in Gainesville, and Headwaters in High Springs, said he has worked in the

restaurant business since 2000 and watched the number of workers in the industry dwindle over the years. He said it’s hard to get new people to work – especially people with experience. “I think we really noticed for the first time about three or four years ago,” he said about the shortage of workers. “We didn’t necessarily get mobbed with applications when we put an ad for help.” To Hughes, a lot of people seem tired of working in the service industry due to low wages and harsh treatment from customers. He said some restaurants had patrons who lashed out about inconveniences they experienced due to short staff or limited hours. Working in a restaurant is often viewed as unskilled, uneducated labor, he said. City and county residents often post their poor experiences at restaurants on Facebook food review groups. He has seen people encourage them in the comments to reach out to corporate immediately. “We all make mistakes on occasion, and those are often easily fixable,” he said. “But the reactions to those have become more and more aggressive, and I think it’s just making people not want to do it anymore.” Hughes believes raising the minimum wage — even if the increase isn’t to $15 or $20 an hour — can combat the lack of workers. There’s a possibility people are staying home on unemployment benefits because they’re making more than they would from minimum wage, he said. “It’s gotten to a point that I’ve been hiring in both of my restaurants for going on nine months,” he said. “There’s no end in

sight.” Atticus Steinmetz, economic development manager for Gainesville’s Chamber of Commerce, an organization that facilitates economic opportunity and prosperity, echoed Hughes’ belief. Steinmetz said low wages have been an issue for more than a decade in the U.S. He believes this is due to a skills gap, which is when workers’ skills do not line up with those needed for a particular job. This gap can lead to underemployment because businesses don’t want to hire inexperienced workers, which in turn creates a slow growth in wages, he said. Before the pandemic, unemployment in the United States reached record lows, yet wages did not increase. As soon as researchers like Steinmetz began to explore this dilemma, the pandemic arrived and unemployment skyrocketed, he said. Steinmetz’s research showed a drop in employment within the leisure and hospitality industry in March and April 2020 along with a decrease in the hourly wage for this industry. However, his data indicated that even in the months before the pandemic began, the hourly wage was steadily declining. The pandemic didn’t create the problem of stifled wages, but staff shortages and unskilled workers brought attention to the issue, he said. “It’s been a huge problem, but it’s probably coming to a head,” he said. @LucilleLannigan llannigan@alligator.org

‘It’s my therapy’: Black Gainesville residents find community in gardening THE GROUP WAS CREATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

By Alan Halaly Alligator Staff Writer

As she kneeled in front of a freshly plowed patch of dark brown dirt encircled by a wooden fence in Reserve Park, Kimberly Brown smiled at her daughter Bella.

“Remember what I told you? How the roots are?” Brown asked, raising an herb to show the 7-yearold. “It’s the plant’s blood vessel, you see, because that’s how ours is on the inside. It’s a system — that’s how they get their water.” The 30-year-old Gainesville resident is one of more than 80 members of the Gainesville Black Garden Network, a Facebook group where Black residents share their garden-

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Kimberly Brown, 30 (left), sprinkles fertilizer around newly planted daises as her 7-year-old daughter, Bella Smith (right), waters a garden plot behind her on Monday, March 29, 2021. They spent the day at Reserve Park for the second Gainesville Black Garden Network meeting since the group formed in February.

ing experiences. The group is working on a plot located in one of several community gardens throughout the city. These efforts are important to East Gainesville, where several neighborhoods qualify as food deserts. Walmart is the only USDAapproved grocery store east of Main Street within city limits. Community gardens like the one at Reserve Park are part of a citywide effort to increase food security since the first one was built in 1998. Each garden is equipped with a hose and a handful of plots that belong to other residents who applied to get one from the city. Plot owners water others’ plants when they drop by the gardens, an unofficial rule to keep the plants growing. Denisha Williamson-Walker, a 36-year-old Gainesville resident and founder of the Facebook group, said she never thought she’d find a community of Black people who enjoy gardening until she posted a question in the “Gainesville Word of Mouth” Facebook group, asking if there were other Black gardeners in the city. She received an overwhelming response and decided to create the city garden group as a way for Black residents to share photos and videos of the home gardens they worked on during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group grows each month. To Williamson-Walker, gardening has been a way to cultivate happiness while in quarantine with her wife and son. Her intention to farm on this plot, Williamson-Walker said, was to give Black residents in the neighborhood access to fresh food.

“I like being in the dirt,” she said. “It’s soothing and therapeutic. It keeps you grounded.” The plot in Reserve Park was donated to the group by Kelley Tomlin, a 33-year-old East Gainesville resident. Tomlin applied for the plot when the park opened last year. However, when she became pregnant with her daughter, she looked to pass the land along to a worthy cause. After meeting Williamson-Walker online, Tomlin was thrilled to donate the plot to support WilliamsonWalker’s goal of creating a space that could become a community food source for Black residents in the surrounding neighborhood. “She’s very inclusive and even invited me to be a part of all their activities,” Tomlin said. “It’s a really, really positive group.” Williamson-Walker came to the plot Monday afternoon with Brown and her daughter to not only grow a variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables, but a community as well. The pair hosts events for Black residents to share their love of horticulture together. Prior to Monday’s session, the group had a seed swap where members exchanged plant seeds for their home gardens. Brown started to garden with her daughter at the start of the pandemic, mostly growing collards, a member of the cabbage family. A little over a year ago, she helped Bella tend to a strawberry plant, which now is bearing unripened strawberries. As a licensed clinical social worker at Kimberly Kares Counseling, Brown’s private counseling

practice, she often recommends gardening to her patients. She believes they can learn to love themselves by loving a plant. “I always tell my clients that have issues with self-esteem and depression to go get a plant and name it after themselves,” she said. “Then you’re watering yourself and you grow with it.” The group hopes to continue growing their online space. Nate Porter, a 32-year-old East Gainesville resident who is new to the Facebook group, said while he grew up caring for his grandfather’s garden, life got in the way of cultivating his own as an adult. At the beginning of the pandemic, Porter found time and started using his backyard and other greenspaces around his house to plant crops such as peppers and peanuts. It’s an activity he brings his two children and wife into for family bonding. Each family member plants the crop they love the most. He said he puts in as many hours as he can to maintain it. “It’s my diffuser. It’s my therapy,” he said. “When I’m frustrated after a long night at work, the next morning I go and sit out there and drink my coffee. I go through the crops, play with them and plant some stuff. It’s just a relief.” Ultimately, the food service worker has found a sense of peace in the midst of COVID-19 chaos through his home garden — and he’s not alone. @AlanHalaly ahalaly@alligator.org


GAU President read four demands VIGIL, from pg. 1

investigation based on anonymous complaints in a bargaining agreement signed by UF’s Board of Trustees, Mermer wrote in an email. The language allowing GAU to use anonymous complaints to trigger an investigation was added as a response to Chen’s death. UF is now required to give the union a copy of any future investigation findings if it files a formal complaint to the university and asks UF to investigate. However, UF is not required to release the results for Chen’s case once it is concluded because the agreement was passed after Chen’s death and GAU did not file a complaint, Mermer said. UF has seen the union’s demands, but declined to comment on them due to the ongoing investigation, Fernandez wrote. “The university should release all details of the investigation and, at the very least, suspend Tao Li without pay, if not terminate his employment entirely,” Mermer wrote in an email. Some students marched Thursday night to show their solidarity with Chen. Mentor abuse is still an issue at UF, Zachary Bush, a former UF physics graduate student, said.

Bush said he faced verbal abuse from his advisor, who still works at UF. He said he believes his former mentor is still verbally abusing people. He wishes mentors would refrain from degrading their students and stick to more respectful criticism. GAU’s new ability to trigger an investigation using anonymous complaints is a step in the right direction, Bush said. “Obviously it’s not an isolated issue,” Bush said. “It’s happening to other graduate students, and who’s to say how many more graduate students are out there who don’t want to speak up because they’re afraid.” Five graduate students spoke at the vigil. Some expressed grief over Chen’s death while others shared frustration at how stories of mentor abuse, like Chen’s, are too common in higher education. “They want the talent of international students, they want the labor of international students, they want the money of international students, but they don’t want to protect those international students who are most at risk of mentor abuse,” Bryn Taylor, a 24-year-old UF rehabilitation science graduate student, said at the vigil. Taylor, who is also GAU’s communications

Graduate housing to reduce by 40% HOUSING, from pg. 1

“The last thing graduate students need is additional stress from housing insecurity,” Orsini said. Amanda Pritzlaff, a Ph.D. candidate and representative for Graduate Assistants United, also spoke. She highlighted the value graduate students bring to the university, such as the part they played in earning UF a record of more than $900 million in research funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini said the board has pri-

oritized undergraduate students recently but will address graduate student needs soon. “I assure you, we are on it,” Hosseini said. “It is our turn to pay attention to you.” In the meantime, graduate students like Jacqueline Schnieber still depend on the availability and affordability of on-campus housing to attend UF. Schnieber, a 28-year-old international fourth-year English Ph.D. student from Germany, lived in Tanglewood Village, a graduate complex located on 13th street, for her two first years of study.


Attendees carry a banner that reads “Graduate Assistants United Remembers Lost Friends & Colleagues End Workplace Exploitation for All” from Norman Field to Tigert Hall on Thursday, April 1, 2021 for a vigil honoring the life of Huixiang Chen, a graduate student who died by suicide in 2019. chair, believes there’s a systemic problem regarding the mistreatment of international students. Because their immigration status is tied to their employment, they often fear reporting incidences of abuse, Taylor said. She wants UF to vocally condemn abusive behavior among mentors.

She moved off-campus in 2019. Schnieber said finding a reliable and affordable apartment is particularly difficult for international students because of unfamiliar contracts and pricing of the area. “Having grad housing was a major blessing, and I don’t think I could have done it without it because I was already low on money when I came,” she said. Graduate students bring value to the university through the high tuition they pay and the intensive work and research they do, Schnieber said. She hopes to see more effort from the university to hear their needs. “Instead of lip service, we want to see action,” she said. “We don’t

“Wherever Huixiang’s soul is, I hope he’s getting, at least, some well-earned rest,” Taylor said at the vigil.

want another email saying how much you value us; we want to see you actually coming to the table and listening to our stories and hardships.” Lack of transparency from the university is another criticism from graduate students. Orsini said the university didn’t inform graduate students about its plans to cut graduate housing in 2019 and 2020, nor why. This Spring, he sent a survey to all students living in graduate and family housing to evaluate the impact tearing down their housing would have. Approximately 30% of students living in graduate and family housing were still unaware UF planned to close Maguire Vil-

@alexlugo67 alugo@alligator.org

lage and University Village South. It is important the university investigates the needs of graduate students, Orsini said. He praised the appointment of a Board of Trustees member to further study those needs. The Board of Trustees rescheduled Dr. Sylvain Dore’s presentation on the graduate student experience from March 18 to its June meeting. “Graduate students’ and the university’s needs should not be competing,” he said. “They should actually be in alignment.” @CarolinaIlvento cilvento@alligator.org

MONDAY, APRIL 5, 2021 www.alligator.org/the_avenue



Swamp Records brings a ‘rebirth’ of live music with seventh annual Spring showcase SHOWCASE 2021 TOOK PLACE SATURDAY AT HEARTWOOD SOUNDSTAGE

By Veronica Nocera Avenue Staff Writer

Even in the midst of a pandemic, Swamp Records continues to command the Gainesville music scene. The student-run record label hosted its 2021 spring showcase Saturday at 7 p.m. The event took place at Heartwood Soundstage, with in-person performances by headliner Parrotfish and local favorites Driptones, helloashtonchase, Faith & Majesty, Neverless, Dionysus, Mace and Arden. Gainesville bands The Forum and Driveaway also made a virtual appearance, with 15-minute prerecorded sets by each band broadcasted in between live performances. In addition to music, the event hosted food vendors such as Germain’s Chicken Sandwiches, Radha’s Kitchen and several artisan vendors. The program was Swamp Records’ seventh annual showcase, marking the start of a slow return to normalcy after 2020’s Spring showcase was canceled and Fall Fest 2020 was moved online due to the CO-

VID-19 pandemic. Showcase 2021 followed COVID-19 precautions and social distancing guidelines, requiring masks for attendees and implementing distanced seating. Swamp Records president Bella Clements said the record label values Showcase as their biggest event of the year and part of the downtown Gainesville yearly music scene. The 22-year-old UF marketing senior said the spring showcase is the best chance to offer Swamp’s signed bands the opportunity to either headline a big music event or open for a popular headliner. All profits also go directly back into supporting Swamp Records’ bands, projects and events, she said. Clements said Showcase 2021 was a big success for everyone involved, and she “couldn’t have imagined a better lineup, better vendors or better food.” “Seeing people dancing and singing and enjoying themselves, even in the midst of everything going on right now, was one of the best feelings ever,” she wrote in a message. “I’m so thankful to Heartwood and so glad we could put on this event for the community!” This year, after a COVID-19-fueled hiatus from the spring show-

case, Clements said Swamp Records was excited to bring the event back. Inspired by this return, the theme for Showcase 2021 was spring, playing on concepts of renewal and bloom. “We definitely want it to be something that feels like a rebirth,” she said. “Bringing the arts community back into the in-person sphere.” Clements said the record label treated Showcase 2021 like a “big comeback event,” pushing the limits of what a typical music showcase looks like. “We (wanted) to make Showcase not just a music event — it’s more of a festival,” she said. Tiffany Silva, a 22-year-old UF English and international studies senior, attended the spring showcase Saturday night. “The music scene in Gainesville was able to blossom again in the hands of Swamp Records,” she wrote in a message. “There was a feeling of normalcy in the midst of live music and friends!” Indie sister duo Faith & Majesty announced their signing with Swamp Records last February, and Showcase 2021 was their first in-person event under the record label. Majesty Smith, 23, said live music was one of the reasons she and her sister Faith,

Chasity Maynard // Alligator Staff

Houston Whitehouse, 27, prepares his The Cozy Fern stand Saturday, April 3, 2021, during the Swamp Records 2021 Showcase at Heartwood Soundstage.

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27, originally moved to Gainesville in 2019. She said the two were thrilled to perform at Showcase and with the support of Swamp Records and the Gainesville community. “It’s going to feel so nice and so nostalgic finally getting to gather safely as a music community,” Majesty said prior to the show. “It’s going to be like friends meeting up again.” The duo’s set Saturday was full of original songs, including their most recent release, “Premise.” Saturday night was also Swamp Records’ first time working with Parrotfish, a Florida-born, Nashvillebased alternative rock band. The band’s 24-year-old guitarist, Joe Cadrecha, said they were excited to play in Gainesville again after their High Dive debut February, and they are hoping to meet new fans and get connected with the UF audience. As with many bands, COVID-19 put a damper on Parrotfish’s ability to perform live throughout much of 2020. Instead, Cadrecha said the group used the time off to write new songs, record and get better at songwriting and production. As conditions start to improve, however, he said he sees there being “a huge explosion of live music next year.”

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Cadrecha also said he thinks people are eager to get out and do something social, using live music as a distraction from the chaos of everyday life. “Shows kind of create a social camaraderie, and that’s something people have been missing this past year,” he said. @vernocera vnocera@alligator.org

Chasity Maynard // Alligator Staff

Florida-based band Faith&Majesty performs during the Swamp Records 2021 Showcase on Saturday, April 3, 2021. The singer-songwriter sisters, Faith (left) and Majesty (right) Smith, sang original songs at Heartwood Soundstage.

Baseball Breakdown

Beat writer Ryan Haley breaks down Florida’s recent up-anddown performances on the diamond, pg. 12

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Senate President takes public stance against conservative clubs’ suspension LUIS DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ALL OF SG, STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT TREVOR POPE WROTE

By Carolina Ilvento Alligator Staff Writer

Student Government Senate President Franco Luis’ first official action in his newly elected position was writing a public letter to SG and university officials expressing disappointment in UF’s recent decision to suspend three conservative organizations from campus. After announcing the suspension of UF’s chapters of Turning Point USA, the Network of enlightened Women and Young Americans for Freedom, the university was criticized for being politically biased from students and selectively enforcing guidelines onto conservative groups. In his letter, Luis expressed concerns about UF’s decision to temporarily suspend the organizations for

violating COVID-19 guidelines. He argued the university was silencing conservative voices and the suspension violated the First Amendment by depriving students of their freedom of speech and right to assemble. Luis sent the letter to Dean of Students Heather White and Vice President of Student Affairs D’Andra Mull, and forwarded it to members of SG March 24. “While I understand and respect the University’s COVID-19 policies, the selective enforcement of those guidelines and discrimination against the three conservative groups cannot be ignored by student leaders such as myself,” Luis wrote. Luis expanded on what he meant by “selective enforcement,” writing that UF’s administration failed to hold all student organizations to the same standards. He said he witnessed “multiple instances” of other student organizations violating the university’s COVID-19 guidelines, in which no interim suspensions were mandated. He did not answer The Alliga-

tor’s questions asking for examples of such instances. “As a publicly funded institution, we must maintain a neutral stance to the various voices that help make our campus great,” he wrote in an email. Student Body President-elect Cooper Brown, Student Body Vice President-elect Faith Maniti and Student Body President Trevor Pope wrote in emails that Luis’ letter and opinions are not representative of Student Government’s viewpoints as a whole. Brown, who served as the previous Senate president, endorsed the university’s enforcement of its clearly stated protocols and guidelines onto students and organizations. The university has “not only the right but the responsibility” to keep its students healthy, he wrote in an email. “My belief has always been that personal politics have no place in Student Government,” Brown wrote. “We are here to serve the students and that is not a partisan issue.”

Maniti echoed Brown’s belief, writing in an email that allowing personal beliefs to interfere with their roles as Student Body leaders is irresponsible. “I want to make it clear that this was not a matter of silencing voices, but rather emphasizing the safety of students,” Maniti wrote. Student organizations are required by the university to register all events regardless of political or ideological beliefs, Pope wrote. “While this interim suspension is unfortunate, it applies to all student organizations equally,” he wrote. During Senate’s public comment March 30, Senator Zachery Utt (Murphree, Inspire) was the only senator to mention Luis’ letter. He expressed frustration with it being the first action taken by the new Senate president. “This was not indicative of the way that the Senate feels,” Utt said. “It was wrong. It was an attempt to introduce this university into a political landscape that has no interest in being on.” UF released a statement March

21 reiterating that it did not attack the organizations because of their political beliefs. Instead, it claimed to have followed standard practice to suspend organizations and individuals who violate established guidelines. “The university has not taken, and would not take, action against a student or registered student group based on the viewpoint they represent or the content of their speech,” the statement read. The release referenced evidence of attendees not wearing masks nor adhering to social distancing guidelines at the event, thus “jeopardizing the health and safety” of students. The Alligator has requested copies of the evidence. The statement also clarified that four other student organizations and more than 20 students have been suspended for violating the same guidelines, mostly from Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils. @CarolinaIlvento cilvento@alligator.org

UF quarantine dorms keep a low capacity through the Spring semester EAST HALL REMAINS UNUSED SINCE BEING SET ASIDE FOR SPRING

By Manny Rea Alligator Staff Writer

In preparation for another Spring semester in the COVID-19 pandemic, UF set aside three dorms for COVID-19 positive students to quarantine in, but much of the space went unused as positivity rates fell. As more students moved onto campus and registered for face-to-face classes, the university moved all of East Hall’s residents out during the Fall to create an additional quarantine facility. The addition of East Hall marked the third quarantine dorm hall at UF, along with Trusler Hall and Riker Hall, which have been available since

Fall. However, the dorms have been used sparsely since January — East Hall hasn’t housed a single student this semester, said UF Health spokesperson Ken Garcia. UF hasn’t decided whether it will reuse the dorms for isolation in the Summer and Fall. Last semester, 1,289 students stayed in the quarantine dorms for on-campus isolation, Sara Tanner, UF Student Affairs marketing and communications director, wrote in an email. In the Spring, 304 students isolated on campus as of March 25. From the first day of classes Aug. 31 until the last day of exams Dec. 18, 3,390 students tested positive. This semester, 1,870 students have tested positive since Jan. 11. Kelly Keehan, a 19-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology sophomore, said her experience in the quarantine dorms felt mostly

quiet. She was contact-traced from a COVID-19 positive student she encountered after an outdoor event. Keehan was sent to Riker Hall from Jan. 12 to Jan. 25 to quarantine. While there, she would occasionally run into another student in the communal bathroom but otherwise went about her day alone. She filled her time with a daily regimen of schoolwork, Zoom yoga and phone calls with family and friends. “It’s definitely challenging, but I think if you give yourself grace and make sure to still text people and call — FaceTime people throughout the time that you’re quarantined it’s definitely manageable,” she said. At its highest this semester, quarantine dorm occupancy stood at 14% Jan. 28 through Jan. 30. It dropped to 1% occupancy between March 2 and March 12 before rising to 7% Sunday, ac-

cording to the university’s testing dashboard. As UF mulls over options for upcoming semesters, former East Hall residents miss their old home. Nicholas Reid, a 19-year-old UF mechanical and aerospace engineering freshman, passes by his old dorm on the way to Gator Corner Dining Center daily. He moved out from East Hall in December along with 155 other residents. The COVID-19 pandemic decreased social events for on-campus residents, but Reid said East Hall residents stayed social. “I don’t think UF should have broken up East Hall,” Reid said. “We had a great community there. We still talk to each other, we still hang out and everything but it’s tougher now.” @ReaManny mrea@alligator.org

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Explaining Santa Fe College’s COVID-19 reporting procedures SANTA FE’S CONFIRMED POSITIVE COVID-19 CASES ARE SELF-REPORTED

By Juliana Ferrie Alligator Staff Writer

Colleges and universities across the country created online dashboards to display COVID-19 numbers, but since the onset of the pandemic, Santa Fe College only reports the number of cases in weekly staff emails. The college developed its current system of reporting case numbers based on what its employees wanted to know and how frequently, Lela Frye, the college’s director of human resources, said. Instead of developing a publicly accessible dashboard, Santa Fe faculty and staff receive weekly email reports from Frye with the college’s COVID-19 numbers, she said. “I don’t know that there’s a reason why we don’t,” Frye said about Santa Fe posting numbers. “We don’t have a reason to do it, if that makes sense.” UF created a COVID-19 dashboard in August to publicly display the number of cases. UF officials repeatedly pointed to the numbers as they made reopening plans for the Spring, despite topping charts with some of the highest reported case totals among the country’s universities in November. Frye said the college never created a COVID-19 dashboard, and she’s unsure whether students ask about the data. But as a public record, Frye said if a student asks for the data, they would receive it. Students who are interested in seeing Santa Fe’s COVID-19 data can contact Student Affairs by email, spokesperson Jay Anderson wrote in an email. The college will provide interested individuals with the total number of confirmed positive student cases, as well as data on students who reported feeling ill, he wrote. The college relies on self-reporting to collect its data, Frye said. When someone reports symptoms of COVID-19 or exposure to someone who tested positive, she said the college opens a file. From there, Santa Fe’s contact tracers reach out to the employee or student listed in the report, which make up the college’s processed cases number, she said. The reports include data from Monday after business hours through the following Monday,

Frye said. The college began documenting student cases March 8, 2020, and employee numbers the following day, she said. Santa Fe treats symptomatic employees and students as presumptive positives, meaning individuals are still required to isolate even if they test negative, Frye said. The college does not offer testing. “We never adopted a test-based philosophy,” Frye said. “We adopt the much more conservative symptoms-based method.” In Fall 2020, 13,996 students enrolled at Santa Fe. The college required faculty, staff and students to complete COVID-19 training modules before returning to campus for the Fall semester. Masks and physical distancing are also required to protect those on campus. This Spring, Santa Fe offered courses in four different formats: in-person, online asynchronously, as traditional hybrids and as virtual hybrids. If students feel ill or concerned about having the virus, they are told to contact their county health department, Anderson wrote in an email. Students can schedule a COVID-19 test with the assistance of the Alachua County Health Department and Bradford County Health Department, Anderson wrote. Students fill out a form if they have COVID-19 or have been exposed and inform their instructors their classwork may be affected through Canvas, according to the college’s website. Faculty are encouraged to report students to Student Affairs who were sick, Frye said. Faculty and staff should contact Human Resources by email if they have been exposed or had COVID-19, according to the website. Employees or students who do not report to their respective departments are handled on a case-by-case basis, Anderson wrote in an email. When Santa Fe contact tracers complete a student report, they notify all faculty listed on the student’s schedule and provide the date the individual can return to campus, Frye said. Faculty are expected to keep the information confidential and receive a follow-up email when the student is officially cleared for campus, she said. Employees and students can’t return to campus until a contact tracer clears them through a follow-up consultation, Frye said. Faculty, staff and students who don’t stay away from campus, report their status or com-

ply with COVID-19 protocols are “subject to disciplinary action or other appropriate adverse response by the College,” according to its website. Because the college did not mandate testing, faculty, staff and students can choose whether to report a positive test result, Frye said. The number of positive cases within the college could be higher than the number Santa Fe was able to report as a result, she said. In terms of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, students and employees who feel well and have no known exposure to the virus are allowed on Santa Fe property, Anderson wrote in an email. The campus enforces mask-wearing and social distancing to protect against asymptomatic spread, he wrote. Through a timeline created by the contact tracing teams, Santa Fe determines if an individual has been on campus while positive and whether that resulted in further community spread, which means causing any additional exposures, Frye said. These measures have been successful for the Santa Fe community, Anderson wrote in an email. In the last year, only eight people tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of what the college’s contact tracers may have deemed community spread. “That’s a huge success story, and it tells us that the protocols we have put in place have been effective at mitigating the risk,” Anderson wrote in an email. Tony Rodriguez, a 23-year-old Santa Fe student earning his associate degree in health sciences, is currently taking his courses online because of COVID-19. Rodriguez preferred to learn virtually this semester because he lives with family members who are at risk due to their ages and health conditions, he said. He saw the effects of the virus personally when his mother, who is a nurse, became infected, he said. “It just makes me more cautious when I make decisions of interacting in public with people or going back to campus and stuff,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said he started at Miami Dade College, but he transferred to Santa Fe because of the way it handled COVID-19 and its prioritization of the community’s safety and health. He plans to apply to get his Associate of Science

in Nursing at Santa Fe and later get his Bachelor of Science in Nursing at UF. He said Santa Fe has communicated well with its students about COVID-19 updates. Rodriguez personally doesn’t ask about Santa Fe’s COVID-19 numbers because he doesn’t want to submerge himself in the negativity. “To me, it’s just psychologically too much, so I try not asking,” Rodriguez said. Although Rodriguez feels this way, he said students have different preferences and should be able to access the numbers publicly if they want. Mary Grace Eaton, an 18-year-old Santa Fe first-year working toward an animal sciences associate degree, had firsthand experience with the college’s COVID-19 protocols. When she became ill during the Fall semester, she missed class and reported her illness to her professor with a doctor’s note, she said. However, because her doctor verified she was not sick with COVID-19, Eaton did not have to quarantine, she said. Soon after, her professor reported her case to Santa Fe, and Eaton received a call from Student Affairs, she said. She didn’t know her professor had told the college about her illness until she got the phone call, she wrote in a text message. If Eaton had been exposed or had the virus, she said she would have had to quarantine for 10 days — even if she received a negative result. “They really made sure that you did not have any contact with campus,” Eaton said. Eaton and her friends have not heard anything about the college’s case numbers, she said, and she would like to see a COVID-19 dashboard specific to Santa Fe. Eaton said she thought Santa Fe would email or text her about the numbers. Eaton works for a daycare and chose online classes this semester to prevent exposing the children to COVID-19. “I know, for me at least, it’s really difficult doing online, and I know if I saw the numbers that would be helpful if I were able to do inperson,” Eaton said. @juliana_f616 jferrie@alligator.org

Santa Fe College celebrates LGBTQ+ resource center grand opening THE CENTER OPENED MARCH 29 ON SANTA FE’S NORTHWEST CAMPUS

By Juliana Ferrie & Sofia Echeverry Alligator Staff Writers

Elisabeth Eder set out to create a space for her community, clipboard in hand. The 21-year-old sociology Santa Fe College second-year student began a petition to open an LGBTQ+ resource center last February. She started by convincing students to add their signature to the paper fastened to her clipboard. Eder noticed the need for an accepting circle of people bonded through their similarities, and found that more than 400 people agreed, she said. The groups and clubs available to Santa Fe’s LGBTQ+ students at the time didn’t suffice, Eder said. People needed a physical space to curb feelings of isolation. “I felt a bit alone,” she said. The Santa Fe College LGBTQ+

Student Resource Center officially opened March 29 to solve these problems. The center, located on Santa Fe’s Northwest Campus in Room G-023, is decorated with pride flags, including a miniature one adorning a small succulent plant on the windowsill. Inside the resource center, literature will be available for students to browse, and it will serve as a space for people to gather, read or study, Santa Fe’s LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Affinity Group representative Chelsea Carnes said. The center will hold small events and hopes to hold discussion groups, panels and film screenings in the future, she said. Although March 29 was the resource center’s grand opening, the space has been available to students since its soft opening Feb. 8, Carnes wrote in an email. The soft opening provided them with more time to decorate and find supplies while still offering services to students, Carnes wrote. The center will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., Carnes wrote.

Santa Fe was missing a permanent space for the LGBTQ+ community that wasn’t run by students to provide resources, Eder said. With most students graduating within two years, maintaining existing groups was challenging. “We had a pride club that was kinda getting off the ground, but I realized we needed so much more than that,” Eder said. “We needed resources and support and to be able to meet each other, make friends and have a community.” Cheryl Calhoun, Santa Fe’s Dean of Access and Inclusion, stood in front of the small rainbow ribbon taped to the entryway of the center and addressed the nineperson crowd at the grand opening Monday. When former Santa Fe President Jackson Sasser hired her three years ago, she said tackling an LGBTQ+ space was her biggest challenge. “This was the space that scared me the most because it touches who I am as an individual,” Calhoun said at the event, tearing up. “I thank all of you for making this

easy, making it okay to be who we are, making it okay to be open about who we are.” One of the reasons a space like this was so important, Calhoun said, is because gender identity and sexuality aren’t always apparent without an individual’s disclosure. “Having a space like this allows our students to come into a space and meet other people that have a bit of an understanding that they have walking through this world,” she said. Using the petition, Eder wrote a resolution for the center that Santa Fe Student Government approved and the College Senate, which is run by Santa Fe faculty and staff, passed, according to Santa Fe’s website. From there, a small task force, including Eder and Santa Fe faculty, staff and students, developed the center, Carnes said. Members of the LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Affinity Group, a social organization for Santa Fe faculty and staff to support one another and LGBTQ+ students on campus, will take turns operating

the center, she said. Members refer to it as the Q+ Affinity Group. The center plans to offer a work-study position, which will provide a student with the opportunity to work at the center part-time as an administrative assistant, Carnes said. In addition, the college’s Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee members will offer staff support, she said. Overall, Eder hopes the resource center will be an accepting place for LGBTQ+ students for years to come — and a place for them to make instant friends. “I hope that any student can walk through these doors and feel comfortable talking to anyone in the room and just know they have such a supportive community of people who truly want what’s best for them and can relate and have been through similar experiences,” Eder said. @juliana_f616 jferrie@alligator.org @sofecheverry secheverry@alligator.org

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© 2020 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

King Features Weekly Service

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May 25, 2020

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MONDAY, APRIL 5, 2021 www.alligator.org/sports



By Zachary Huber Sports Writer

Payton Richards floated through the air with unbreakable focus until gravity pulled her down. She froze upon landing and unleashed an infectious smile in front of a socially distant, sold-out O’Connell Center versus Kentucky. She scored a 9.875 that tied her career-best on floor. But Richards wasn’t always that way. She would be nervous before events. So she would go to her club coach Don McPherson to support. He always responded that he was nervous, too. Richards, like many athletes, became antsy before she competed. She created a pre-meet ritual akin to NBA star LeBron James’ chalk toss before tip-off for herself. She carried the habit like a tattoo from age 12 to college, even with different coaches and after she nailed a previous routine. However, her gymnastics career didn’t start until her parents saw her on the sideline at her brothers’ football games. Richards mimed the cheerleaders and cartwheeled. That’s when her mother Becky Richards knew her daughter was a gymnast. “She would do everything that they did with not ever being coached,” Becky said. The difficulty of their maneuvers never phased Richards. Becky, a former gymnast and coach, worried for her daughter as she understood the sport’s intensity. She encouraged Richards to try out other sports like swimming and soccer. But none stuck like gymnastics. She confronted that reality when Richards’ eyes were glued to the TV in the summer of 2004. That’s when Becky knew she belonged on the mats. Carly Patterson surged back in the Olympics after she landed out of bounds on vault to seal the second all-around title in American history. Three-year-old Richards turned to Becky. “Mommy, I want one of those. I want one of those, and I want to do that,” Becky recalled what Richards told her. And Richards’ journey to Florida gymnastics took off like a plane down a runway in eighth grade. She got her passport stamped in Italy for an international meet and received interest from colleges. Months before the trip, she started to complain to her parents about persistent pain in her lower back area. Becky took her to a pediatric orthopedic doctor, who treated it with physical therapy and dry needling, a treatment similar to acupuncture to ease muscular pain. But two months later, Richards’ pain lingered despite the needles’ pricks and prods. The doctor then ordered 12-year-old

Richards an MRI. Her journey became an expedition. The results came in three days later, and her parents’ hearts sank into their stomachs. Doctors discovered a tumor in her hamstring in January 2015. They diagnosed Richards with a nerve sheath tumor, a rare type of tumor treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Her doctor immediately referred them to Dr. Terrance Peabody, an orthopedic surgeon at Ann & Robert H. Laurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Her parents spent hours researching the tumor like the night before a final exam. They quickly learned it was more than a “baby tumor.” Two weeks after the MRI, they met Dr. Peabody, and Richards’ father asked for the worst-case scenario. There were two potential outcomes: the tumor is removed and biopsied or Richards would lose her leg and endure chemotherapy and radiation. Her parents slumped out of Dr. Peabody’s office in disbelief. Their world shifted from a trip to Italy to a ride to the pediatric wing in a matter of days. Tears trickled down McPherson and his wife Patrice’s faces when they found out about the original scan. The second MRI poured gasoline on an open fire. Richards’ chances of returning to gymnastics looked slim. She would be lucky to walk correctly again as she suffered from a condition called drop foot, which causes difficulty lifting the front of the foot. With each MRI, the news worsened. Richards’ tumor was encapsulated in her hamstring muscle. Richards entered a state of denial. She downplayed the severity of the tumor like it was nothing beyond a sprained ankle. She thought she would return to the gym in a couple of weeks. “She just didn’t understand it,” Becky said. “She had no clue. It was like when the doctor was talking to us; it went in one ear and out the other.” Many in Richards’ life were worried that she wasn't taking the diagnosis seriously, especially because she may have never sported a leotard again. But she shared her unfiltered feelings with her lifelong friend Jessica Roberts. Roberts met Richards in third grade and the duo became inseparable. “She did everything she could and pushed and had this determination to get back to gymnastics and make it work,” Roberts said. Richards prepared for the surgery so she could return to gymnastics. Five days later, on Feb. 24, 2015, Becky, her husband and Richards’ grandparents sat in the waiting room of Ann & Robert H. Laurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. They stared at the surgery update board like students in a classroom glared at a clock for the end of the school day. After two hours, a nurse strolled out. A routine update delivered the news of a lifetime.

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Richards was out of surgery. When Dr. Peabody opened her leg and slid the hamstring over, the tumor popped out. He breathed a sigh of relief because the worst-case scenario was avoided. But the waiting game resumed. Dr. Peabody shipped the tumor out to pathology. They waited a week for the results. Saddened by the neonate cries from the nursery, Richards didn’t want to spend another day in a hospital bed. Dr. Peabody struck a deal with her and said he would sign her discharge forms if she could walk to the bathroom and climb stairs. And she did. The Richards’ left the hospital around midnight. But her family, coach and doctor weren’t convinced she was in the clear to return to gymnastics. Alyssa Parlich, another of Richards lifelong friends, believed she emerged after the surgery with a new perspective on life. “She realized that it could be over in like an instant,” she said. “She was a little bit more cautious and realized that she had an amazing gift.” During her two month recovery, Becky and Richards didn’t mention gymnastics. McPherson, meanwhile, prepared for her return to Aerial Gymnastics Club. He called Dr. Peabody to learn how to rehabilitate from her injury. The doctor gave Richards the green light to start practicing again but warned that she might not be the same gymnast. “I knew if Payton came back to gymnastics, she would not be a happy camper if she couldn’t fly,” McPherson said. The path was bumpy when she returned to her club’s gym. The doctors cleared her to start jogging and complete figure eights. McPherson noticed her foot looked like a puppeteer controlled it. Six months later, it was like a light switch flipped on. Richards rediscovered her old self. Richards overcame hurdles like the frustration of not picking up where she left off after surgery with hard work. “Being here and being able to do what I love is surreal; it’s amazing,” she said. “I'm so grateful and thankful that it turned out that way because I know that there was a lot on the table that could have gotten taken away from me." Richards’ career picked up, and she received interest from

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college coaches at 13. But the sophomore only considered one school: Florida. The Gators and their star gymnasts like Alex McMutry, Bridget Sloan, Kennedy Baker and Alicia Boren became idols. However, UF stood a thousand miles away from Mokena, Illinois, and her parents didn’t want to send her to school that’s so far away. But they became sure of Richards’ decision when she walked into Dr. Peabody’s office two weeks after her surgery to have her stitches removed. She wore a Northwestern sweatshirt when he asked where she’s going for college. She told the doctor that she was dead set on being a Gator. Dr. Peabody turned to Becky and told her that his mentor is a UF physician. That’s when they knew they made the right call. And Florida reciprocated interest. Richards captured assistant coach Adrian Burde’s eyes. Head coach Jenny Rowland admired her because she’s a natural at the sport. “She smiles, and she is confident and she loves gymnastics,”

Rowland said. “Really, those are the great attributes that I look for in an athlete is their love, and passion for the sport. She is just so bubbly and giddy.” However, Becky wanted Richards to consider multiple schools to find the right fit for her. But she only needed to visit one. The Richards made the 15-hour trek from Mokena, Illinois, to the Swamp. They visited Florida on Oct. 3, 2015, when the No. 25 Gators football team defeated No. 3 Ole Miss 38-10. And the moment she stepped on campus, Richards felt at home, like she never left Mokena. She hung out with the 2015-2016 gymnastics team and met her parents at halftime. She begged her parents to let her commit, and they eventually gave in.

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By Ryan Haley Sports Writer

Tommy Mace bellowed as he retired the final Rebel Friday night. The home crowd cheered the series-opening victory over Ole Miss. The scene stood in stark contrast to the previous weekend at Founders Park for the Gators, when they dropped all three games to South Carolina. It was their first sweep at the hands of the Gamecocks since 2006. The gap between the two weekends, furthered by a series win over the Rebels Sunday, reaffirmed that Florida’s problem doesn’t concern its ceiling. It concerns how often they reach it. An 18-9 record in early April shouldn’t tempt the panic button, and Florida remains in prime position to make a run to Omaha. But for a team atop every preseason national poll that received all but two votes to win the conference, it’s been unsatisfying at

times. What’s been the bane of Florida’s games early on? What can the team hang its hat on? Here’s a closer examination. What’s bad?

The Gators fielding didn’t regress to the mean in 2021. It regressed to mediocrity. A year ago, Florida committed 10 errors in 17 games, and no Gator earned more than two. In 2021, Florida totaled 31 errors in the first 27 games, an increase of 0.56 miscues a game. Shortstop Josh Rivera, named second-team All-SEC in the coaches’ poll, committed eight himself for a team-low .904 fielding rate. Only Jud Fabian and Kendrick Calilao remain perfect in the field. So far, the Gators surrendered 20 unearned runs. The team’s fielding percentage slipped to .970, 130th in the country and directly between South Alabama and Loyola Marymount (CA). The team’s .984 average from 2020 would rank seventh. One could make a compelling argument that Florida’s strength in 2020 lay late in the game on the mound. Three Gator reliev-

ers pitched more than 10 innings with ERAs of 1.20 or lower. The bullpen combined for five saves, an 8-0 record and a 1.76 ERA in more than 76 innings. Florida threw 22.2 consecutive scoreless innings in relief from Feb. 29 to March 6. So far in 2021, Florida’s relievers combined for 44 earned runs in 110 innings of work, discounting Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich’s closing efforts against Ole Miss. A 3.60 ERA and a 3-4 record feel night and day from the dominance a year ago. Disasters and pitfalls snag Florida’s pitchers more than a year ago. The Gators allowed 25 home runs in the first 27 games, with 29.9% of surrendered hits for multiple bases. Their extrabase hits allowed rose from 1.94 to 2.48 per game, and opposing slugging percentage flew from .294 to .367. The team’s ERA inflated from 2.41 to 3.86 and the opposing batting average rose from .207 to .237. Florida’s strikeouts per nine innings fell from 10.72 to 9.34. The margins sound small on paper, but the regression on the mound and in the field means the Gators yielded 4.70 runs per game so far this season.

What’s good?

Florida didn’t regress at the plate. In fact, their 2021 numbers are eerily identical to a season ago. The Gators batted .277 thus far, a marginal decline from their .285 average in 2020. They increased their slugging percentage from .447 to .451, and their onbase percentage dipped from .383 to .366. They collected an average of 7.04 runs and 9.78 hits per game so far, within striking distance of their 7.24 runs and 10.06 hits per game in 2020. They’ve struck out less, too. They failed to make contact on 27.8% of their at bats a year ago compared to 24.9% of at bats in 2021. The offense delivered consistently this season as well. They scored 10 or more runs five times against six games with five runs or less. At least five Gators reached base safely in every game this season, and they tallied eight or more hits in 20 games. A trio of true freshmen impressed early at the plate. Infielder Colby Halter started all but two games and batted .297. His 21 RBIs rank third on the team. Outfielder Sterlin Thompson batted .274 in 21 starts with a

team-high three triples. Infielder Jordan Carrion recorded 14 hits in 20 games, including his first home run Sunday. The class of 2020 drew attention on the mound, too. Carrion’s allowed four hits and no runs in 6.1 innings this year, performing well enough for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to say he could grow into a closer role. Right hander Chase Centala threw a scoreless four innings in his first start against North Florida, and Timmy Manning permitted just two hits in 5.2 innings of relief. Manning’s first start against Stetson, five earned runs in under two innings, left much to be desired. But the newest wave of Gators already show promise. As Florida sits exactly halfway through the 2021 season, it can take pride in its offense and newest additions. However, if the Gators want to leap from fifth in the SEC East to national championship contenders, it’s obvious what holds them back.

@ryan_dhaley rhaley@alligator.org

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