Meet Trailblazing Knight Michael Lalone ’72
By Ashley Cullins
In 1968, UCF opened its doors as Florida Technological University (FTU) to fewer than 2,000 students. Classes were held on the third floor of the library, and tuition cost $150 per quarter. There were no parking lots. Students parked their cars in the sand and affectionately nicknamed the new university “Sandlot U.”
They drove through construction and cabbage patches to get to class, but it was exciting to be a part of FTU’s beginning. The university was a blank slate, and they could help write its future.
These Trailblazing Knights shaped the spirit, innovation and excellence of UCF, laying the foundation for the university we know and love today. On April 8, UCF’s first five graduating classes will be honored at an on-campus Trailblazing Knights event, complete with brunch, a campus tour, a reception and a performance at the Dr. Phillips Center.
We’re kicking off the celebration with this three-part series, in which you’ll meet three Knights who blazed trails at FTU and throughout their post-university lives.
Meet Michael Lalone
Basketball brought Michael Lalone ’72 to FTU in 1970. Lalone transferred from Valencia College after legendary coach Torchy Clark offered him a scholarship. “I was one of the first scholarship players on the first scholarship team,” says Lalone. “I played forward, and when the two 6’4 guys fouled out, I played center because I could jump pretty high.”
The fledgling basketball team didn’t yet have a home gym, practicing and playing mostly at Oviedo High School or Orlando Junior College. Still, Lalone recalls a camera crew filming the players at a luncheon, announcing, “This is FTU’s first NCAA class of ball players.” He still can’t believe how far the program has come since then, and he’s honored to have been part of its foundation.
One of Lalone’s favorite basketball memories took place during a game against Fort Lauderdale University. “They were huge,” he says, “and back then, I had hair and I could jump. Toward the end of the game, I outjumped all these 6’7 guys and grabbed the game-winning rebound. I remember everyone coming up and cheering.”
At the time, Lalone led FTU’s basketball team in free throw percentage, and his name held a place in the university’s record book for several years.
Off the court, Lalone studied physical education, completing internships at Winter Park High School and Oviedo High School. “All the professors I had were incredible,” he says. “They were enthusiastic and energized. They spent time interacting with us and really listening. They made it such a positive, enjoyable experience. The teacher preparation and real-world experience were top-notch.”
After graduation, Lalone taught P.E. classes and coached basketball at two Orlando high schools before transitioning to middle school. When he arrived at Meadowbrook Middle School, it was time for Lalone to take teacher recertification classes.
“Back then,” he says, “you could take six hours in anything, and it would count toward recertification. I had always liked to draw, so I took a drawing class at Valencia. Then I decided to take a clay class. Sure enough, when I got in that clay class, it was like magic. I absolutely couldn’t stay out of there. I must have taken four or five classes. My last class was independent study because I had already taken everything else.”
Soon, Lalone was teaching P.E. and drawing at Meadowbrook, then P.E., drawing and clay. When Dr. Phillips High School opened, Lalone was hired to build the school’s ceramics program.
Demand for his classes quickly skyrocketed, and he was teaching six class periods of 32 students each. Lalone received the Daniel Clark Foundation Award for ceramic education at NYU and was named a Disney Teacherrific Program winner.
Eventually, his ceramics program was recognized by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts as one of the top 12 programs in the country. Lalone was flown out to Kansas City to give a presentation on his methods. The recognition brought positive publicity to the ceramics program, and students from Japan and China visited the classroom.
“For 21 years at Dr. Phillips, it was like I didn’t even have to go to work,” says Lalone. “It was so much fun, just a blast. We cranked out some great kids, and I’m proud of them.” Seven of Lalone’s former students now teach ceramics programs of their own in Orange, Seminole and Osceola County.
In 2005, Lalone moved to North Carolina and built another ceramics program, this time at a folk school. He now teaches at Young Harris College, a small liberal arts college in North Georgia. He’s building the ceramics program there too, while teaching additional workshops in his spare time. He sells his own work at art festivals and to galleries across the country. Occasionally, he still shoots hoops.
“I never dreamed I’d be doing this,” says Lalone. “I always thought I’d be in athletics, coaching basketball, P.E., something like that. This ended up being something I’m passionate about, and I really got hooked on it.”
Although he discovered his love of ceramics post-FTU, the university will forever hold a special place in Lalone’s heart. “I look back, and I realize I got an awful lot from the university,” he says. “The total experience was just incredibly positive.”