David Cloninger

Dawn Staley unites all Gamecocks

It’s been a pet peeve since before I started being around the team every day.

They’re not the Lady Gamecocks. “Lady” isn’t written anywhere on that uniform, that court or that locker room. They were once upon a time – and once upon a time, they were the “Chicks” – but that went out with double-knit leisure suits.

Some teams adopt that term as their official nickname. Tennessee is the Lady Vols, Louisiana Tech the Lady Techsters. But putting “Lady” in front of a women’s team just because they’re women is inaccurate.

South Carolina’s women’s basketball team is the Gamecocks. It’s as insulting as it is frustrating when people still tag the “Lady” in front.

Which is why Sunday’s parade honoring the national champion Gamecocks did more for women’s sports in this state than all the wins Dawn Staley’s team nabbed before last Sunday’s. A massive crowd of men and women gathered to celebrate the Gamecocks.

No more just the women’s crowd. No more just the parents of the players.

Sunday was for anybody who’d ever worn a garnet shirt hoping one day to lord it over their neighbors dressed in blue, purple or yellow celebrating their champions.

Old and young, male and female, all were lining Main Street and drifting into the throng that choked the steps of the State House. Frank Martin and Dawn Staley have mentioned it several times – USC fans love them some USC. They’ll show up for any sport, winning or losing, but when a team’s winning, they trod upon each other’s feet to get to the venue.

Nobody’s won more over the past four years than Staley, and it culminated in a national championship.

“Nine years ago, we probably averaged 500 fans,” Staley said. “I didn’t know what a national championship program looked like. It was person by person, spreading the news about this program.”

She was instrumental in that, making every individual who attended a game feel like they were on the sideline. She’s never backed down from it, still reaching out to more and more people as more and more people have come see her teams.

Staley has been the driving force behind removing the separation from women’s and men’s sports at USC. As her program has taken off, she’s encouraged fans to go visit Shelley Smith’s soccer team and Bev Smith’s softball team. Folks – and I used to be one of them – who would scoff at attending those events before want to be along for the ride.

There were no Lady Gamecocks being honored Sunday or Lady Gamecocks fans shaking pom-poms.

There were just Gamecocks.

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