By: Stacy Thompson
As I sit here only a few hours removed from an impulsive trip to Madison Square Garden and only a few minutes removed from watching Dawn Staley lead our Gamecock women’s basketball team to another Final Four, I can’t help but think of Frank Martin’s open letter to South Carolina fans following an improbable win over legendary Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils. The letter (if you haven’t seen it, please take the time to read it as it is everything that is good about college athletics) was heartfelt and heart wrenching, as it paid homage to long-suffering Gamecock fans and gave insight on the soul of a winner. As soon as I read it, and because I’m a lawyer, I immediately thought of counter-points and arguments to convince Frank that he should not be thanking us, but instead, we should be thanking him. And Frank is not the only one who earned our appreciation, but the missive below pertains to Frank, Dawn, Coach Tanner, Dr. Pastides and the other generally nameless, but vital, cogs in the wheel of Gamecock athletics.
Dear Frank and Dawn:
How’s everybody feeling?
Yeah, we’re feeling pretty darn good too. In the past 30 hours, much of the nation learned what I have known since moving here 39 years ago—what we have here in Columbia is very special. And recently, we happen to play some pretty good basketball (ask Duke, and Florida, and Florida State, and, well, I could go on…)
This didn’t just happen, and South Carolina basketball hasn’t always been so good. Frank, when you said this I thought back to the years of watching really good teams lose out in the first round to Coppin State, to days when the women’s team was only an afterthought, and to days when the best entertainment to be found was Cocky precariously hanging from a rope in the rafters to complete a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen dunk. Time and time again we were given hope that this year would be our “Wait ‘Till Next Year”-year only to fall short and be overjoyed with 2 NIT titles. Not to say that those titles were not hard-fought and earned, but falling short as a Gamecock fan became too much of the norm and reduced our dreams to little more than being satisfied with a win over that team from the Upstate and avoiding a forty point loss to the cellar-dweller of the SEC.
Yes, we are special for many reasons — we are 13th in the nation for attendance at the men’s games and 1st (2 years running) in attendance at the women’s games — not a fluke that this has happened given the outstanding product on the floor you both provide to all that enter Colonial Life Arena.
Frank, in your letter you cite three things you want from your fans — our time, our money and our passion. From a fan perspective, let me say that all we want are the same three things from you and your teams —
1) Your time — I have played collegiate ball and know the commitment and dedication it takes, so thank you for your time and thank your teams for the time they spend not only in practice, but in the weight room and study hall as well as the time not spent with family and friends in the pursuit of excellence on the court.
2) Your money — Let’s be honest, Frank and Dawn (as well as Ray, Dr. Pastides and scores of others within the athletic department) could make more elsewhere, and are worth more than they are actually paid. We are lucky to have them and should continue the trend of making sure that Gamecock Nation makes not only the best choice from the heart, but the wallet as well.
3) Your passion — Having been a fan all these years, and having received three degrees from this university, there is no doubt as to where my loyalty and passion lie. But you, Frank and Dawn, came here with no known ties, no reason to support us and without any inkling of the challenges that were ahead of you in basically building programs from the ground up. The fact that you both have embraced, encouraged and relished in the passion of our fan base is not lost on Gamecock Nation. We love you for it and we will continue to support you because of it.
Frank, you said you told your players the following: “If you want to get better, if you’re willing to listen and if you’re honest and fearless about how hard you want to work and how good you want to be, then playing for me will be a whole lot of fun.”
Frank, Dawn, Ray, Dr. Pastides et al: We want to get better, we are so willing to listen and we are absolutely fearless about hard we want to work. The past few weeks have been a whole lot of fun…here is hoping that the next weekend is as well. Good luck in Dallas and Phoenix!