Female football fans brush up on their Gamecocks

Special to The StateApril 18, 2010 

Caroline Shelley runs with a pass for a touchdown during the USC ladies football clinic.

TRACY GLANTZ/TGLANTZ@THESTATE.COM

When Tonja Childers stood in front of the 550 or so women gathered for the sixth annual Steve Spurrier Ladies Clinic, USC sophomore wide receiver Tori Gurley knew he was about to be in trouble.

He walked quickly over to his mother and tried to politely dissuade her from telling the story she was about to share.

It didn't work.

Childers told the story of when Gurley was born in Birmingham, Ala. About four hours after his birth, she was still waiting on the nurses to bring her the newborn son.

All the other new mothers had already received their children. But all that remained in the nursery was a little girl dressed in pink with a bow in her hair. After a few anxious moments, Childers began to worry. She saw the nurses huddled together trying to figure what went wrong.

Childers finally decided to go over to the remaining infant and pull back the diaper just to make sure. Much to her delight, the nurses had dressed young Gurley in the wrong outfit, and it was indeed her son.

She had pictures to prove her story.

"The nurse said he was such a beautiful little baby with all that hair on his head, they somehow assumed he was a girl and put him in pink with a bow in his hair," Childers said.

Gurley, who participated in the ladies clinic for the first time, had kind words for his mother even though she told that story in front of many of his teammates.

"It was great that my mother was here, and I was able to share it with her," he said. "I'll never forget this. I will love her no matter what, but I'm going to get her back eventually for telling that story. I'm sure I'm going to hear about it from the guys."

Light-hearted entertainment - with football education thrown in - was the theme in the daylong Ladies Clinic on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The ladies spent the morning hearing from Spurrier and all the USC position coaches. They also had a question and answer session for some of the players. Among the 12 players in attendance were Jarriel King, Jason Barnes, Cliff Matthews, Connor Shaw and Weslye Saunders.

After lunch, they broke into three groups. One group went to the weight room and did several exercises and agility drills with the players. Another group went to the defensive meeting room, and the final group went to the offensive meeting room.

Each session lasted about 20 minutes, and it gave the women a different perspective on what goes on behind the scenes.

"My husband enjoys it because when football season comes, I know plays," Delphine LaGroon said. "I know what I'm talking about, so I don't have to ask so many questions. He only has to explain a little bit to me now. It's something we share together even though he can't attend."

LaGroon is from Marietta, Ga., and was making her fourth trip to the ladies clinic. She has attended every year but one after her husband, Anthony, bought her tickets as an anniversary gift five years ago.

"It's a fun day because you feel like you are a part of it so when football season comes, you have met the players and talked to the coaches so it makes you feel a part of being a Gamecock," LaGroon said.

After that came what many of them called the highlight of the day. They gathered in the tunnel from the Gamecocks locker room and ran onto the field to a blaring rendition of "2001."

"We have a blast," Anita Rawls of Saluda said. "You feel the emotion and all that goes into the playing of '2001.' Everybody comes out excited, and it really is the highlight because it culminates the day."

From there, they were able to throw a touchdown pass, catch a touchdown pass and return an interception for a score.

All in all, a fun day for everyone involved.

"I'm surprised by the crowd," first-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "There are 500 or 600 women here. The excitement about Gamecock football, the excitement they are bringing, it gets you fired about the upcoming season. It's a great time."

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