While the national anthem is played before every Winthrop University athletic event, Saturday afternoon’s rendition was a little more special for those in attendance.
On the court stood dozens of members of the 178th Combat Engineer Battalion. In the crowd stood plenty of military veterans and their families.
It was Winthrop’s first ever Hoops for Troops event, designed to honor members of the military, past and present, especially the Rock Hill-based 178th, whose members returned in May from their second deployment to Afghanistan.
Robert Sweet, of Rock Hill, served in the Marines from 1961 to 1997. On Saturday, he and his son, Jason, and his grandson, Cooper, got to go see the Eagles take on the Virginia Military Institute’s Keydets free of charge, simply because he’s a veteran.
“We came because we wanted to support the 178th Engineering Battalion,” said Sweet, who is active in veterans organizations such as the American Legion.
At the door, spectators could give donations to the Wounded Warrior Project and pick up more information on the National Guard.
Veteran events like this help military families feel supported by the community, said Shameka Catoe, whose husband is a veteran.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “The veterans don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
Catoe was at the game to watch and because she works at Founders Federal Credit Union. As part of the Hoops for Troops event, Founders presented a check to the organization for $1,000.
Before the game, as members of the 178th marched and stood at attention on the court, the crowd cheered and waved small American Flags. God Bless the USA played over the sound system and a video about the 178th’s last deployment played on the Jumbotron.
“As a veteran, and especially as a member of the guard and reserve forces, it’s critical to be recognized by the community because without their love and support, our successes just wouldn’t happen, both here in the United States and abroad,” said Command Sgt. Major Joe Medlin, the highest ranking enlisted person in the battalion.
And veteran events like Hoops for Troops might teach a new generation how to appreciate what they’ve got in the United States.
“It might generate some cohesion in the community at large and help people to understand the sacrifices people make for their country,” he said.