Why Does Florida Softball Wear Sunflowers? The Gators Are Honoring Someone Special

"She would just be ecstatic. She would be thrilled with what they’re doing. It’s making people ask questions, which will hopefully in turn bring awareness."

Melissa Willets - Author

May 31 2024, Published 11:57 a.m. ET

Relief pitcher Rylee Trlicek #44 of the Florida Gators winds up for a throw against the Oklahoma State Cowboys with a runner on first base during the NCAA Women's College World Series at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex on June 4, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Source: Getty Images

The official state flower of Florida is the orange blossom.

So why does the Florida Gators women's softball team wear sunflowers in their hair? Well, the reason is actually very sweet and may bring a tear to your eye.

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Read on to learn the full story of the significance of sunflowers for the Florida softball team, which fans will notice they wear affixed to the backs of their heads.

The Florida Gators celebrate winning game one during the Division I Women’s Softball Championship held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK
Source: Getty Images
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So, why do Florida softball players wear sunflowers? It's a long-standing tradition.

Gators softball players at the University of Florida wearing sunflowers in their hair is nothing new, with the tradition first taking root back in 2009, per hometown paper, The Gainesville Sun.

That's when 11-year-old Heather Braswell, who was fighting childhood cancer, was matched with the women's Gators team via the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. According to the outlet, Heather came to every game to support her favorite team, even sitting in the dugout, while the players were by her side for cancer treatments.

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“She was basically a shy person, but we’d get to the field, and she’d run down the steps, hop the fence and go into the dugout with them right away,” her mom Terri told People in 2014.

Tragically, Heather passed away in 2013 after her cancer went into remission but returned. However, the team still wears sunflowers, her favorite bloom, in her honor, more than ten years after she died.

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Heather's mom said in 2015, "Sometimes, it (the sunflowers) makes me cry."

"But it warms my heart that she touched so many," Terri also said. "She would just be ecstatic. She would be thrilled with what they’re doing. It’s making people ask questions, which will hopefully in turn bring awareness."

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This is not the only sweet way that the team pays homage to their number one fan. Adorably, Heather still also has a locker at the stadium, along with a "Team Heather" jersey, and the Gators host "Sunflower Saturdays," as well as an annual "Yellow Game" to benefit childhood cancer research.

Terri also threw out the first pitch at a game following her daughter's very sad passing, an honor Heather also had during her final weeks.

About the jersey in the locker room, 2015 sophomore pitcher Delanie Gourley said, “And we're never taking it down. She's always going to be a part of our team."

And, former player Bailey Castro said in 2014 about the young girl who inspired the sunflower tradition, “When Heather first came here, it was definitely so she could look up to us. But in the past year and a half, she became our role model. She changed our lives.”

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