Know Your Foe: South Carolina Gamecocks
Since this is the first time EMU has ever played South Carolina in women’s basketball, I figured a Know-Your-Foe was in order. Little did I suspect what I would find lurking in South Carolina’s history!
The University of South Carolina is a public research university located in Columbia, South Carolina, with 7 satellite campuses. Its historic campus covers more than 359 acres in downtown Columbia near the South Carolina State House. Among other claims to fame, the university houses the largest collection of Robert Burns and Scottish literature materials outside of Scotland. The total enrollment for the school is nearly 45,000, with more than 30,000 of those on the main campus in Columbia. Noteworthy South Carolina alumni include Mark Dantonio, Lee Atwater, US Senator Lindsey Graham, US Representative Joe “You lie!” Wilson, John Carter (but not the one you’re thinking of), and Hootie and the Blowfish.
South Carolina’s 19 varsity sports teams are known as the “Fighting Gamecocks”. The unique moniker is used in honor of Thomas Sumter, a South Carolina war hero who was given the name “The Carolina Gamecock” during the American Revolution for his fierce fighting tactics, after a British general commented that Sumter “fought like a gamecock.” While the men have traditionally been the Fighting Gamecocks and the women were previously the Lady Gamecocks, this distinction was discontinued in part to help eliminate gender bias in their athletic department, and today all teams are commonly referred to as the “Gamecocks”. All of the university’s varsity teams except men’s soccer compete in the Southeastern Conference (men’s soccer competes in Conference USA because the SEC does not sponsor men’s soccer).
The official school colors are garnet and black. However, some officially licensed merchandise also contain gold, which is said to represent the spurs historically worn by gamecocks in cockfights. The colors of garnet and black were chosen by the family of Dr. J. William Flinn when they presented a banner composed of those colors to the football team in November 1895. There was no definite act of adoption of the colors, but an unsuccessful attempt was made shortly after 1900 to change the colors.
Sex and lies
The first Gamecocks women’s basketball team to compete at an intercollegiate level dates back to 1923 when they were called the “Pullets”. The first varsity team, known as the “Carolina Chicks”, took to the court in January 1974 under the guidance of Pam Backhaus. The inaugural team compiled a record of 15-7 and were the South Carolina AIAW Champions.
In 1977, South Carolina athletic director Jim Carlen was looking for a new coach. Pat Head (now Pat Summitt) at Tennessee and Pam Parsons at Old Dominion were considered the best at the time. Head was unwilling to leave the Lady Vols, so Carlen hired Parsons. “I wanted the best coach out there – and I got her”, he later recalled. With Parsons as the head coach, the team changed their nickname to the “Lady Gamecocks” and made post-season trips every year with her at the helm. The team seemed to be destined for a national championship, but Parsons was forced to resign amid allegations of recruiting violations, improper benefits to student-athletes, illegal drug use (sending students to buy for her), and having an affair with at least one of her players. Parsons subsequently filed a $75 million libel lawsuit against Time Inc. (as owner of Sports Illustrated), which the jury rejected, finding that the depiction of her as a “sexually deviate, a corrupter of the morals of young women and a person wholly unfit to serve as head basketball coach at the University of South Carolina or in any other position of responsibility” was not untruthful; Parsons and former South Carolina player Tina Buck later pled guilty to perjury charges for denying they had been to “Puss ‘n Boots”, a lesbian club in Salt Lake City; Parsons and Buck served four-month sentences in a federal prison.
The program continued to be successful after joining the Metro Conference in 1983, though they no longer were in national championship contention. During their eight seasons in the league, the Lady Gamecocks won the regular season championship five times and the conference tournament three times. South Carolina joined the SEC in the 1991-92 season, and in 20 years of SEC play, this year was their ninth winning season and just their third season over .500 in conference play.