To serve the growing collegiate population, UCF students established the Central Florida Future in 1968, just five years after the university was founded. A great deal has changed in the 48 years the two have shared their patch the of Central Florida region.
Considered one of the major universities near the Space Coast, UCF is home to more than 63,000 Knights — but it wasn’t always that way.
Back in 1968, classrooms only held 1,948 students, 90 instructors and 150 staff members. The school, originally named Florida Technical University, offered 55 degree programs from five colleges, including Business Administration, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Engineering and Technology. Now, it offers more than 100 academic programs and is the second-largest university in the nation, according to the UCF website.
FTU originally consisted of only two buildings, a science building and a library. The library, the first structure to open its doors, was home to more than bookshelves: It housed classrooms, the administration and offices.
In order to get to their classes, students would drive up a dirt entrance road, which led directly to the library. Upon arrival, they would have to call university staff to frighten away the slew of rattlesnakes that loitered in the sand parking lot, as reported in a previous Future article.
On October 7,1968, FTU held its first day of classes and the student newspaper, playfully titled the “FTU ???,” also hit the stands. The Orlando Sentinel heralded the event, stating “Monday, Oct. 7. Write it down. Remember it as the day that changed Orlando and Central Florida forever.” The paper soon became known as the FuTUre after the sixth issue on Nov. 15, 1968 — note the capitalized FTU.
Eleven days after students listened to their first college lecture, a theater was constructed out of a large bubble structure and placed next to the science auditorium. FTU erected its first functioning theater venue on April 30, 1969. The flameproof tent could easily seat 200 audience members.
Flash forward to the year 1978. When Florida Gov. Reubin Askew signed Legislative Bill 125, and FTU became the University of Central Florida. The FuTUre echoed the change, becoming the Central Florida Future.
Throughout the next 20 years, construction took the ever-growing university by storm. The Student Union, the heart of campus, began construction in 1980 and was completed in 1981. It is a four-story, 26,000-square-foot facility that houses the Pegasus Ballroom, the Pegasus Seal and a food court offering a wide array of choices.
Exactly 15 years later, the Robinson Observatory was dedicated to Herbert and Susan Robinson. The couple donated a large portion of the funds needed to build the observatory after learning the university was working to restore the 26-inch Tinsley telescope. The observatory is located down Ara Drive, past the UCF Police Department. The Tinsley telescope was originally built for South Florida University, and UCF began assisting with the telescope’s restoration in the early 1990s. The Tinsley telescope was removed from the observatory in 2007 and replaced with a new a 20-inch telescope from RC Optical Systems Inc.
In the early 2000s, the university built hundreds of dorms and created Knight’s Plaza, which is currently home to Dunkin’ Donuts, the Towers residence halls, Barnes and Noble and more. Also notable was the addition of the $14.5 million Recreation and Wellness Center. Its new indoor track and 41-foot climbing wall beckoned throngs of students to the facility and still do to this day.
The year 2007 marked the grand opening of the CFE Arena. Originally built to seat 10,000 people, the center features luxury suites, lounge boxes and club seating. The multipurpose live entertainment arena routinely hosts a legion of talented singers and comedians as well as keynote speakers. As of right now, the university plans to continue its trend of expansion with the addition of a downtown campus. First proposed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, the $60 million campus is expected to open fall 2018 and will host a number of academic programs, including social work, legal studies, communications and more.
The rise of Knightro
Knightro, the UCF mascot, was not always the face of the university. Even though Knightro’s suit of armor has always been black and gold, many mascots of different faces served the university’s history during the 48 years of the Future’s publication.
The school originally embraced its Florida heritage while preserving its space roots when the Citronaut, toting a laser gun, a space helmet and the body of an orange, became the first unofficial mascot in the late ‘60s. It debuted on the 1968-69 student handbook, according to the Spring 2013 issue of Pegasus magazine, and was met with some disapproval, but was recently resurrected as an official UCF bobble-head.
Next to join the unofficial mascot ranks was Vincent the Vulture, which was inspired by the large number of scavenging birds circling overhead on campus. Students would often flock to one friendly vulture on campus to feed it. When the beloved vulture was found dead on campus, it was taxidermied and stored in the President's Office until it was transferred to the University Archives at a later time, according to a previous Future article.
When the university’s second president, Trevor Colbourn, changed FTU’s name to the University of Central Florida, another change was needed — this time with the Athletics Department. Through votes in suggestion boxes around campus, the school finally had decided on a nickname: the Knights. With that name came a slew of different knight-themed mascots.
In 1980, Sir Wins-A-Lot served as the Knights’ mascot to amp up support for the up-and-coming football team. The optimistic mascot was knighted by Colborn himself and even had his own dragon mascot to slay named Puff. Through the ‘90s, Sir Wins-A-Lot became a more realistic-looking Knight who still charges onto the football field atop a white horse before games today. Mack the Knight made his debut for the school’s 25th anniversary, a time when the pregame show included lavish performances by the Medieval Times & Dinner Tournament cast, according to a previous Future article.
While these Knights all served their time with honor, they paved the way for the greatest Knight in all the land: Knightro. While he wasn’t officially named until fall 1995, the knight in shining, golden armor started making campus appearances in November 1994. Trey Gordon, a UCF 1996 alumnus and cheerleader, helped create the mascot and filled the role himself.
“We didn’t have an animated character that would interact with the crowd as much,” Gordon said. “I think [Knightro] embodies school pride, spirit and the fun-loving nature of college.”
In 1996, a local Disney character developer dreamt up a newer version of Knightro and even a female version, Glycerin, who was discontinued after two years. More recently, Knightro’s presence on social media has made him even more necessary to UCF’s growing Athletics Department.
Last August, the Future learned that another man was behind the mascot: Ed Knight Jr., known as “Sir Knight” by students. Ed, who died Aug. 16 at the age of 93, was instrumental in helping students maintain their deferments and, in turn, keeping them out of Vietnam during his 20-year career as UCF’s director of records and registration.
“The student body ended up voting for ‘the Knights,’ and not everyone knew why, but it was because of Ed Knight and what he did for us,” said John Voelpel, a UCF and Kappa Sigma alumnus. In fact, the entire fraternity backed the idea.
“I think UCF has found their place, and it was with Knightro there, so I think Knightro is here to stay,” said Kyle Gheen, a 2015 construction engineering alumnus who was Knightro for three years. “People know the name of Knightro, people know what Knightro looks like, so I think that no matter how much UCF changes and grows, Knightro is going to be Knightro.”
Today, eight spirited students don Knightro’s 25-pound costume at countless campus events, such as Homecoming’s royal crowning, Spirit Splash and football games, boasting wardrobe additions that include a tux and top hat, swim trunks and camouflage cape for military appreciation events.
“The reason why I went to UCF was to be part of seeing the school grow and become something new,” Gordon said. “We were a small school so that meant we were going places.”
That we are.