Gators gear brings smile to huge fan
EDITOR'S NOTE: Guy Harvey Inc. asked The Tampa Tribune to deliver an autographed Gators national championship T-shirt and poster and to extend on its behalf a special invitation to a young woman who was brutally assaulted in 2008 at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library.
BRANDON - A young woman who spends much of her life confined to her bed or undergoing therapy as the result of a brutal assault last year, lit up Wednesday when her mother presented her with some special gifts.
The 19-year-old's face broke into a broad smile when her mother held up an autographed Gators national championship T-shirt and poster, telling her it had been signed by renowned wildlife artist Guy Harvey.
And for a few days in October, her world will again broaden when she leaves Brandon to spend the weekend at her beloved University of Florida.
A recent update in the Tribune on the young woman's progress caught the attention of the president of Guy Harvey Inc., a company that typically focuses on ocean conservation.
Steve Stock, president of the iconic company known for the colorful shirts it produces depicting fish of the world's oceans, has stepped forward to give the teen a dream - a VIP trip to Gator Growl and homecoming at UF, the school she planned to attend before the attack that left her severely disabled.
Guy Harvey is a major sponsor of this year's homecoming activities.
The young woman and her family will travel to Gainesville on Oct. 15 to spend three days attending Gator Growl, an event that includes music, comedy, skits and personal appearances by members of the Gator football team. She will also attend the homecoming game against the Arkansas Razorbacks and get a visit from friends now attending the university, her mother said.
The teenager, whose name is not being used because of the nature of her assault, had received admission to UF shortly before the attack. Kendrick Morris, now 18, of Clair-Mel City, remains in jail without bail on charges that include four counts of sexual battery, robbery, kidnapping and other offenses in the attack on the teenager and an unrelated assault on a day care worker.
Because she is unable to speak and barely able to see, she won't be able to socialize with her friends in Gainesville, but her mother said the teen knows she is going and shows excitement when the Gators are mentioned.
Shortly after Stock contacted the teen's mother, she broke the news to her daughter.
"She screamed so loud, like I never heard before," her mother said. "This makes her so happy. We want to make her happy."
"When I first read her story in August while I was in Tampa visiting my folks, it was like somebody punched me in the gut," said Stock, a Tampa native and UF grad whose daughter is a senior in Gainesville.
Stock said he realized it could have been his daughter. He wanted to do something to ease her loss.
"I related to the story on a very personal level," he said.
Florida Blue Key, the student organization that produces the homecoming festivities, is helping to arrange for a hotel and tickets for the teenager and five family members.
Stock said he's not sure he can arrange a meeting with Gator quarterback Tim Tebow, as the family requested. But he and Blue Key members are working on it.
The experience will mean a lot, the teen's mother said.
As confining as her world has become, it still includes the Gators.
She wears a tiny silver, orange and blue Gator football around her neck, courtesy of UF's Alpha Delta Pi sorority, whose members regularly make colorful cards for her.
And then there's the sports page hanging on her wall, prominently displaying Tebow's picture.
Reporter Yvette C. Hammett can be reached at (813) 627-4763.
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