Hired as the director of high school relations for South Carolina football in 2016, Clyde Wrenn knew who to call next. Part of Wrenn’s job was to connect new coach Will Muschamp with important local figures and, to Wrenn, few had a deeper contact list than Carey Rich.
“I wanted to make sure Coach Muschamp met certain people,” Wrenn said. “And Carey knew a lot of these types of people.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. Serve & Connect CEO Kassy Alia Ray. Former S.C. Sen. Joel Lourie. Former South Carolina basketball coach Eddie Fogler.
The above is a sampling of prominent folks Rich has gained the respect of over his time serving his hometown. Their testimonies are now found on CaptainsHopeInc.com, a website recently launched in connection with Captain’s Hope Inc, a non-profit organization founded by Rich. Its goal is to “instill hope and provide inspiration to local youth.”
Wrenn was introduced to Rich after hearing the former South Carolina guard on the radio. A two-time captain for Fogler’s Gamecocks in the 1990s, Rich has been a fixture of Columbia’s airwaves for over a dozen years. But Wrenn learned quickly why Rich has so many notables on speed dial.
It wasn’t because he’s an ex-ball player. It was because he’s an ex-ball player who’s used his platform to give back to the streets he grew up on.
“He enjoys helping people,” Wrenn said. “Just like people helped him, he’s helping people the same way. He’s a good guy, he’s a guy you can trust. He’s a guy that if he tells you something, he’s going to get it done. He’s just a solid kind of guy.”
Rich is a product of Saxon Homes Housing Projects and attended Carver Elementary School, W.A. Perry Middle School and C.A. Johnson High School. He’s carved out a career as superintendent for cty of Columbia’s parks and recreation department, a fitting role for someone who’s long proven his passion for the area.
Like Benjamin, Lott, Ray and others, Wrenn can attest to Rich’s humanitarianism. They’ve recently put together and executed three events, including a bus-trip to Charleston with 50 kids from W.A. Perry. They went on an African-American history tour, took over a section of a restaurant for lunch and spent a chunk of the afternoon at a trampoline park.
“When we got back,” Rich said, “every last one of those kids sent a thank-you note.”
Another time, Rich and Wrenn saw that 37 girls — ages 6 to 12 — went to a nail salon, saw Wizard of Oz and got lessons from the USC dance team all in one day.
“It’s been great because the kids know Carey’s the one doing this,” Wrenn said. “I wouldn’t know these kids and I wouldn’t know to go to these sections of town, but he does. Them seeing him is important.”
Visibility is a big thing for Rich. Providing kids an experience is one thing, but he wants to be there when they are getting recognized at an assembly or graduating from school.
“You can’t ask a kid to be what they can’t see,” Rich said. “We’re asking to be this person that they only see on TV. Well, in this community, this city, I’ve been able to create a presence. So it’s important for those young kids to see me on a regular basis, it’s important for them to see me not only on TV. I want them to be able to see me and be able to touch me. I want to encourage those kids. That’s so important to me.”
For a week every July, Rich can be spotted near the scorer’s table inside Heathwood Hall’s gym. He’s the founder and host of the SC Pro-Am. The basketball tournament has attracted Gamecock and NBA players, but it’s also put a spotlight on lesser-known local products.
Rich has made sure of it.
“Every year putting together teams,” said Adam McDowell, a key Pro-Am organizer, “there’s always so many guys who want to play. So he’ll always give me a name of a kid that could use the Pro-Am to help their game get better. He might give me a name of a couple guys that aren’t from USC or aren’t big names, but they get the opportunity to play with that caliber of talent and work on their game and get better. He’s always giving back in that aspect.”
William Hatten assists Rich in several basketball events every year, including a middle school tournament in December.
“Me and Carey, our mission is to help kids have a better opportunity in life,” Hatten said. “Man, if we can help a young lady or a young man get a college education, get on the big stage, that’s what we want to do. When you see these middle school kids come play in our showcase, they’re on the big stage with a PA announcer, a deejay. We just roll out the red carpet, make them feel so great.
“And Carey has the same attitude and excitement for doing that middle school event that he has for doing the Pro-Am with Ja Morant and Zion Williamson and those guys.”
Captain’s Hope was created to allow others to join Rich in what has become his unique life mission. Opportunity exists to become a mentor, send a charitable donation or sponsor a scholarship.
It’ll be a long time before this point guard records his final assist.
“I’m a big believer that every kid has a gift,” Rich said. “It’s up to us as individuals to identify that gift. Once we identify that gift, we got to help nurture and develop that gift. And once we help nurture and develop that gift, we got to put them in positions to maximize those gifts.
“And we put those kids in position to maximize those gifts based on social capital, but more importantly giving them new exposure, giving them new experiences.”