At a pep rally a few years ago, some overzealous (and slightly sloshed) FSU fans tossed a stuffed alligator-with a noose around its neck-in Francesca Duran's direction. She calmly let a couple of orange-and-blue-clad strangers step in on her behalf. "These Florida guys told them to pick on someone their own size," says the 28-year-old University of Florida alumna. Still, as president of the Sarasota County Gator Club, Duran insists that the Florida/Florida State rivalry is all fun. Rarely are fans "really, really mean," she says. "And that only happens when there's a football game on."
A marketing professional and project manager for Global Signal, Duran got involved with the Gator Club not long after graduating from UF in 1999. Now in her third year as local chapter president, she touts the organization's bustling numbers (1,400 alumni, family and friends in the Sarasota area) and its community contributions, which include maintaining an adopted stretch of Osprey Avenue and funding as many as eight scholarships every year for local Gator undergrads. Last May, Duran helped organize a visit from new UF football coach Urban Meyer that drew 750 supporters and raised more than $3,000 for scholarships.
Come July, Duran will hand over the Gator Club's reigns and focus on helping younger people network through Florida Young and Involved, another UF-affiliated organization. "It's always nice to have a Gator family you can rely on," she says.