ORLANDO, Fla. — Central Florida’s spirit policeman was busy Friday morning.
He stood outside the school’s student union, with the athletic team’s golden knight mascot, “Knightro,” at his side. He didn’t have a badge or a gun, but the student, wearing a gold UCF polo and a blue police hat that may or may not have been bought at a costume shop, was still ready to enforce the law.
Every 30 seconds or so, he activated the police siren on his loud speaker, and it wailed loudly as he quickly approached his next target.
“Hey, you! Where’s your black and gold?” he yelled accusingly at a passing girl, whose purple shirt rendered her helplessly guilty. “Where’s your school spirit, man? It’s school spirit day, come on!”
All the fake tickets and toy handcuffs couldn’t save him. He was fighting a losing battle.
It's hard to make a dent here.
Central Florida’s campus is huge — a mass of palm trees, brown brick lecture halls and parking garages that stretch up into the humid Florida air. The streets are a series of concentric circles, which create a bubble wherein all university-related activities are held. With over 58,000 students enrolled here, the school seems to have created its own civilization just east of Orlando.
The athletic program — a blip in the subconscious of the massive student body — can be classified as an afterthought, at best.
Here, fast food restaurants almost outnumber classrooms. Students pile in and out of the union’s “Crepe Royale” daily, satisfying their need for elaborate breakfast foods. Subway, Sbarro, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Asian Chao and The Pita Spot all fight for the scraps during lunch hours on busy weekday afternoons.
The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013, and reminders of the accomplishment are draped all throughout campus. Banners read, “UCF. 50 Years, 1963-2013,” in gold and white.
Because of the school’s relatively young age, though, there is little in the way of school spirit or tradition. There are no columns that have stood for over 100 years. The fast food items are plenty; the campus staples, like "Shakespeare's" or "The Shack," are few.
But what the school lacks in experience, it more than makes up for in beer.
One of the campus’ more popular bars, “Wackadoo’s,” is comfortably nestled in the heart of the student union. Above the entrance to the bar, which happily offers “grub and brew,” is the restaurant’s mantra.
“Come in and get crazy!” it reads.
Inside the bar, students sit and mingle in the dim lighting, ordering whatever greasy concoction is cheapest on the menu. One man quickly approaches the bar, wearing a blue button-down shirt and khaki shorts. He frantically throws up his hand to get the waitress’ attention and barks out his order.
“I need a pint of Miller Light, fast!” he yells.
When asked to explain his rush, he says it’s simple: he’s late for a study group. The beer comes, he deposits it into his belly in one exaggerated swig, and then he’s on his way, eager to pursue his academic future.
The bar, a hot spot for students looking to quickly forget the results of a recent exam, offers pool tables and arcade games in its second room. The floor is wooden, as are the tables and chairs, and photos of past athletic achievements hang beside televisions on the walls.
The “Wackadoo,” a fictional red bird with an unrealistically long, goofy yellow beak, is also drawn and painted in multiple places throughout the restaurant. In one painting, it appears to be flying, tongue wagging outside its beak happily, as it holds a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other.
Underneath the painting, three words are written in black ink.
“Tradition starts here!”
While a good motto, it's not true. The restaurant and the union that houses it has only been around since 1997.
The school was originally intended to funnel workers into the Kennedy Space Center, which is located 35 miles to the east. While that’s no longer the objective, the campus' street names are the best reminders of where Central Florida began.
Gemini Boulevard. Andromeda Street. North Orion Street. Challenger Parkway.
The tradition of the school lies not in beer, or the “Crepe Royale,” or the football team, which played its first season its 1980. Its beginnings were in space, the final frontier. Now, years later, its identity has changed.
Central Florida has the second largest total enrollment in the United States, and the student body is extremely diverse. Nearly 40 percent of students are minorities, making for a campus mixed with different looks, fashions and cultures.
Here, among the mass of palm trees and paved walkways, there is no agreed-upon tradition. Originality reigns. Students wear all kinds of clothes, listen to whatever music speaks to them best, and zip to classes on whatever two or four-wheeled device suits their lifestyle.
Despite the fervent attempts of Central Florida’s spirit police, a student body this varied cannot be sorted all into black and gold. A small group cheers loudly for the football team; many more, however, shrug and go on their way.
Inside this giant, secluded bubble east of Orlando, tradition isn’t set. It’s whatever you choose it to be.