Dawn Staley credits the South Carolina fans with National Championship victory
Eight-year-old Alexandria Manuel’s hands fidgeted nervously with a piece of paper as she stared up Main Street wearing her Gamecock baseball hat Sunday afternoon. She was waiting to get a glimpse of the champions as they came through.
Thousands of fans young and old lined Main Street to celebrate the South Carolina women’s basketball team’s national championship win a week ago. Gamecock faithful began packing the street several hours before the 3 p.m. parade, which included former USC basketball players, USC cheerleaders, lawmakers, elected officials, and USC mascots Cocky and Sir Big Spur.
Latasha Gandy is a friend of Alexandria’s mother and a USC alum who drove in from Charleston to take Alexandria to Sunday’s parade.
“She’s a huge Gamecock fan,” Gandy said. “I have two children and neither of them went to Carolina, so I stole someone else’s child to bring to the parade.”
Irmo resident Pam Caldwell, 47, said she and her 8-year-old daughter Chelsea went to all of the women’s home games this season. Caldwell has been following the program since before coach Dawn Staley took over in 2008.
“My heart stopped. It’s like a fantasy; I feel like I’m in a dream,” she said of the team’s win over Mississippi State last Sunday for the championship. “They go hard, and that’s how I try to raise her. Go for the goal.”
Another longtime fan, 65-year-old Jesse Stroman, sat by the parade route and held a sign representing Fresenius Kidney Care Meadowlake, where he has been going for dialysis treatments for 13 years. He often watches televised USC basketball games.
“We have 15 patients over there, and everybody’s Gamecocks,” said Stroman, a Gamecocks fan since 1975. “I always was proud of them. Win or lose, I’m still a Gamecock fan.”
Cheers and screams rippled down Main Street as senior center Alaina Coates rolled through in a convertible. After Coates came Wilson, Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis and Ty Harris – and even more screams. Then, the rest of the team, as well as Staley, assistant coaches and team assistants, rode through atop a double-decker bus, hoisting the NCAA trophy and a sign declaring themselves national champions.
In the sea of garnet and black, 27-year-old Ryan Faulkenberry’s orange Clemson T-shirt stood out as he waved and cheered for the team when they rolled by.
“I pulled for them the entire way,” said Faulkenberry, who lives in Lugoff. “Coastal Carolina and the Tigers represented in the national championship as well. Baseball, basketball and football – either way, we all come together as a state and we get to represent a title together.”
“Sandstorm” – and a screaming, jumping crowd – welcomed the team to the steps of the State House, where fans heard from USC President Harris Pastides, athletics director Ray Tanner, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, Richland County Council chairwoman Joyce Dickerson and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.
Laughter rippled through the crowd as Wilson started speaking, then turned around to hush her teammates.
“Thank you so much for being loyal to us,” she said. “... There will be games where it’s really not going our way, but we hear the fans in Colonial. Y’all really speed us up.”
Mayor Steve Benjamin announced that Lincoln Street, from Pendleton to Assembly near Colonial Life Arena, would be renamed Dawn Staley Way, and handed Staley a replica of the road sign bearing her name.
“God is all things. He is all things,” Staley said, taking the podium. “My cup is running over.”
After thanking former players, coaches, university and athletic officials, band members and cheerleaders, Staley finally thanked the fans. She pulled at her “netlace,” which she has donned almost nonstop since last weekend’s win, adding it has to do “with all of you.”
“All the little boys and little girls that live in the state of South Carolina and beyond – figuratively, I want to give you all a piece of this net,” she said. “If you have any kind of belief, any kind of work ethic, any kind of hope – it represents that, because that’s what it took for us to win a national championship. It may be to get to high school; it may be to go to college. It may be to get a promotion. It may be whatever it is that your heart desires. Take a piece of our net and reflect on what we were able to accomplish.”
Staley recalled last season’s Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse while commenting on the future of the program.
“A lot of my friends and family said this: What’s delayed is not denied,” she said to another round of cheers. “The Lord works in mysterious ways, so if you’re not a believer in him and you believe in us, you better find him because he answers. This is just the beginning.”