Since last month’s passing of former South Carolina football coach Paul Dietzel, there has been talk of his accomplishments and how he helped change the culture of Gamecock football.
Not only was he one of the winningest football coaches at the school, but he’s widely recognized for writing the words to the current South Carolina Fight Song. Even though he is credited with writing the song, he would not have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for the efforts of former USC band director James Pritchard.
Pritchard began playing the Broadway hit, “Step to the Rear,” which was composed by Elmer Bernstein with original lyrics (“Will everyone here kindly step to the rear / and let a winner lead the way”) by Carolyn Leigh, during the 1968 season. Dietzel liked the song, added his own words and Pritchard wrote a new arrangement.
And thus, the Gamecocks had a new fight song — “The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way.”
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It’s been around for 45 years now.
“James lived and breathed that Carolina Band,” said Carrie Pritchard, his widow. “He loved everything about the university. Dietzel gets the credit for writing the song, but it would not have been possible without the efforts James put forth.”
James Pritchard passed away in 2005. He served 26 years at USC in different capacities. He was the band director for 10 years and then the head of the music department before retiring in 1985. Before he arrived at South Carolina, he worked for 10 years in music for the Sumter City Schools.
Helping organize the Fight Song is not the only thing Pritchard is credited with during his time working in Columbia.
In fact, Pritchard, who studied at Newberry College, organized many firsts at South Carolina. He introduced the majorettes and twirlers into the performing band. His twin daughters, Agnes and Sally, were twirlers under his direction. He named the Coquettes, which are still going strong today.
Pritchard also started the first High School Band Day, which became an annual event under his direction. He also began the still-active South Carolina Summer Band Camp.
He also was instrumental with the start of the annual Governor’s Carolighting Ceremony. It began in 1967 and is held each year on the State House grounds.
“There were a lot of things that James was a part of that he never received credit for,” Carrie Pritchard said.
Pritchard’s accomplishments reach beyond Columbia. In 1968, Pritchard appeared as a guest conductor of the University of Michigan Summer Symphony Band. Later that year, he conducted the USC band in a Command Performance for President Richard Nixon.
Even with all that he accomplished during his time working at South Carolina, Carrie Pritchard has fond memories of her husband helping compose the music for the school Fight Song. The fact that it’s stood the test of time is a tribute to both James Pritchard and Dietzel.
“My husband got along great with coach Dietzel,” Carrie Pritchard said. “It was sad to learn of his death, but those two will be forever linked in South Carolina history.”