Feb. 2, 2009
Divine Intervention. This is how Cheryl Flowers-Gavin refers to her experience at Purdue University.
In the summer of 1982, Flowers-Gavin stepped on to Purdue’s campus and enrolled in the minority business program. The program aimed to acclimate first-year minority students to the university prior to the start of their freshmen year to improve the possibilities of graduation. While there, Flowers-Gavin went to Purdue’s Co-Rec seeking to play volleyball. Never did she imagine how her life would change by that one event.
“It was truly a blessing to be able to go to Purdue,” said Flowers-Gavin. “It was close enough to get away from Chicago, but close enough to go home when time allowed. I never imagined in my wildest dreams going to Purdue would lead to playing volleyball.”
After meeting head coach Carol Dewey and visiting with other members of the squad, Flowers-Gavin was offered a full-ride scholarship.
“Without that scholarship I most likely would not have been able to stay at Purdue. It was an amazing blessing,” stated Flowers-Gavin, the youngest of 14 children, growing up on Chicago’s South Side. “My mom was so excited when Coach Dewey spoke with her. She asked if she could sign through the phone.”
Flowers-Gavin found herself to be the first African-American volleyball player on a highly competitive Purdue squad. With great opportunity also came a challenge.
“I felt I had to serve as an example and represent all African Americans,” said Flowers-Gavin. “Coach Dewey and Coach Nancy Cross always saw me as a person. They cared about the whole package and saw athletics as a way to earn an education, not a means to an end. The administrative staff and my teammates always took the time to get to know me personally. This took off a lot of the pressure that I felt. I wanted to be able to give Purdue a return on their investment in me.”
During her career, Gavin-Flowers was part of a squad that won two Big Ten titles and topped the NCAA East Division all four years she was at Purdue. Flowers-Gavin was a constant contributor and natural leader. During her senior year, Dewey looked to that leadership when she moved Gavin-Flowers from outside hitter to setter. That year would be the most memorable of her career.
“I had never set before except in practice,” Gavin-Flowers said. “That year was phenomenal due to winning a Big Ten title and having a 34-4 record, but more amazing was my new role and the ability to carry it out as though I had been groomed to play that position. It was a great way to finish my career.”
At Purdue, Flowers took the opportunity she was given and ran with it. She was successful both on and off the court. She was a member of many student organizations including the Voice of Inspiration, Iron Key and Mortar Board. She garnered second-team Academic All-American honors her senior year.
“Attending Purdue helped in my development,” said Flowers-Gavin. “I was able to have an opportunity to face new challenges and rise to high expectations. The time at Purdue has allowed me to be successful. My time at Purdue made me a better person.”
After her college years, Flowers-Gavin returned to her hometown of Chicago and now works within the hospitality industry. She has reconnected with her alma mater and serves on the Athletic Advisory Council at Purdue. Today, when Flowers-Gavin attends matches, she is amazed at the growth of women’s athletics and the investment across the board.
“I believe my story is divine intervention,” said Flowers-Gavin. “God wanted me to attend Purdue.”