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Friday September 27, 2013A Special Salute: Gators to Send a Shoutout to Military ... and Two Chopper Pilot Sons

By Jenna Perlman
GatorZone Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Listen in on a conversation between Florida swim coach Gregg Troy and diving coach Donnie Craine and you might hear talk about an upcoming meet, a recent recruiting tale or even some idle chit-chat about fishing.

Or maybe a helicopter rescue mission.

Both Troy, in his 16th season with the Gators, and Craine, the longest tenured assistant coach at UF at 28 seasons, have sons who fly choppers in the military. Both men know what it’s like to have their children waiting on call. Both know what it’s like to have their sons deployed. Both know the sacrifices their sons have made their family and country.

“We’re both very proud of our children and the livelihood they’ve chosen,” Craine said this week.

Those military ties will be front and center at the O’Connell Center this weekend as the Gators will salute America’s servicemen and women as UF opens the 2013-14 season by hosting the fourth annual Pinch A Penny All-Florida Invitational.  

The three-day meet will serve a dual purpose for Craine and Troy. They will get their first glimpse -- in a meet setting -- of the progress their swimmers and divers made in the offseason, while also helping a cause close to their hearts.

Fans can bring approved donations to gate 2 of O’Dome during the evening sessions of the Pinch A Penny All Florida Invitational. All items will be sent to deployed U.S. Troops in all branches of service overseas. A list of requested items can be found here.

For the two UF coaches, it’s a way to rally community support for the people who protect the country, while also adding a personal touch to honor their sons.

Keith Craine, 31, is a major in the Air Force who flies search and rescue missions and is currently on deployment in Afghanistan. Geoffrey Troy, 26, is a U.S. Marine lieutenant and helicopter pilot stationed in San Diego.

“I talk to my son about that kind of stuff all of the time and they really appreciate all they get,” Craine said of the donation drive. “It’s a great thing that I’m happy to be a part of.”

And then there’s the competition here at home, which is something both coaches are excited to see starting again.

Last season, the UF men’s team ended a 20-year Southeastern Conference drought and won its 34th conference title, ending Auburn’s dominating 16-year league run, and finished sixth at the NCAA Championships. The Gator women came in third at the SEC meet and 10th at the NCAAs.

UF is the big favorite in the All-Florida, but this meet is not about competition as much as establishing baseline times and gauging progress to date, especially for some of the young swimmers.

“We’ll get a look at the freshman and see what they can do,” Troy said. “We want to make sure we are directing people’s training in the right manner so they are in the right strokes and right distances.”

There will be three days of that to go with what the two coaches hope is a nice haul to help the troops.

Craine’s son is scheduled to come back from his sixth tour in Afghanistan in November, just in time for one of his other children, daughter Stephanie, to get married.

That's something else for he and Troy to talk about.

“I think its good for all of our athletes to understand that there are people out there allowing them to do what they do,” Troy said. “But because you have a child involved it hits a little bit closer to home.”

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