With a three-day weekend to take advantage of, My Man and I decided to drive up to South Carolina for the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. I worked with the Gamecock track team for a long time, doing media relations, and with a new facility opening, the Shelia and Morris Cregger Track, we had to be there! After Cardinal baseball and before I met My Man, Gamecock track and field was one of the true loves of my life!
Saturday afternoon we joined a number of Gamecock alums, VIPs, and more for the ribbon cutting ceremony in a tent outside the track. Gamecock senior Maya Evans opened the ceremony with one of the best speeches. We were all so impressed! She has done more than 700 hours of community service!
On behalf of the Cregger family, with Gamecock head coach Curtis Frye and Cocky looking on, Sheila gave a heart-felt speech about having their family name on the track! I felt so proud of the Gamecocks!
It was fun catching up with so many former trackies. Some of the conversations were just a wink and a hug, others were a bit more. I enjoyed catching up with sprinter Keith Hall, now an emergency room doctor in Atlanta. He told me about his families recent vacation to California, including Big Sur (he found that drive terrifying!). I laughed, catching up with Bert Sorin and his lovely wife. Of course he asked me if I was his all-time favorite athlete or at least top five. (Bert: of course you were up there in the top 20!)
I was amazed when USC Athletic Director Ray Tanner said the Gamecocks had won 47 NCAA individual/relay titles! Talk about tradition! Part of so many top 10 finishes, including the school’s first-ever NCAA title (outdoors in 2002 with the women), I enjoyed chatting with sprinter Jon Fortenberry about why he wore his uniform backwards at the NCAA Championship, just out-leaning Baylor and LSU at the tape for the 2002 men’s 4x400m relay national title! I was FREAKING out when I saw him as he stepped off the track that night, afraid we might be DQ’ed. He laughed and said Kevin Brown freaked out more!
Laughing with Fred Townsend about competing and chatting with Ben Yocum — it was so refreshing to see so many of them grown up! Taqiy Muhammad was still Taqiy!
On the ladies side, we loved visiting with all of them. Charmaine Howell looked exactly the same (800m SEC champion, later a gold medalist with Jamaica). Aleen Bailey looked ready to run the 1 and the 2 (events she won at the 2003 NCAAs later winning gold with Jamaica’s 4×1 relays). Aisha, Rhody, Demetria, Erin, Tacita, Nicole, Ellakisha, and more — it was just so refreshing! Seeing Aisha, Rhoda and Keshawn sitting together made me smile. I wish we had hours more to just sit and talk.
When we got there Friday night, before we walked in, My Man and I ran in to jumper Greig Cryer (now working at UT — ugh on the orange!), and multi-athletes Erin (Narzinski) Humphreys, Tacita (Bass) Sumter, and Ben Yocum. They didn’t all know each other, which struck me as odd. I hope in the future more of the Gamecock alums in track and field will connect with each other.
When Tacita came to college, she was so shy! She found it hard to string together two sentences with media, so we worked a lot on the three sentence rule (one about my team, one about me, one about the event). Now she is working in training and development so public speaking is a huge part of her job!
I could write a book on the memories I have with Gamecock track and field. Traveling to three Olympics (1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens), a World Championship (Edmonton 2001), and a World Junior Championship (Jamaica 2002) – there were so many highs mixed in with a few lows. I don’t remember the lows, other than Dawn Ellerbe throwing her discus bag when Lisa Misipeka won it their senior year. Dawn and I still laugh about that!
During my time at the track, I texted a number of alums who couldn’t make it, including Miki Barber, Shevon Stoddart, Dawn Ellerbe and Lashinda Demus — all NCAA champions, all Olympians — all Gamecock graduates. I hope the next Gamecock alumni reunion, they will be there too!
My only regret was that I didn’t take more pictures!
I was happy I crossed paths with all the Gamecock coaches (Coaches Brown, Quarles, Frye, and Allden), but missed throws coach Mike Sergent! Mike — see you at the next reunion!
I enjoyed watching the meet with My Man and long time friend and Gamecock alum, Tim McDonald, on Saturday. They haven’t been to a lot of meets in the past, so I helped them out with the what, why, and where of track and field. They seemed amused with my track knowledge.
I was really happy, right before USC crowned a new SEC champion in the 400m hurdles with Tyler Brockington crossing the line first, My Man and I got to give Coach Frye a good hug and a smile. I literally travelled the world with this man and his teams. We use to meet in the mornings and go for long walks when we were on the road. We talked so much track, but I also learned so many amazing life lessons from him!
To all the former Gamecock trackies, if you haven’t been back to Columbia in a while, try to make it back and see the new track and field. Please! Reach out to the coaches with your love and support! Trust me – the current athletes know who you are — just like Natasha Hastings knew who Tonique Williams was when she was a Gamecock (former Gamecock 400m runners, both Olympic gold medalists!). I bet the 2017 SEC 400m hurdles champion (Gamecock Tyler Brockington) knows about Shevon, Tiffany, Lashinda, Ellakisha, and the other Gamecocks that ran her event before she did Saturday! I bet she would be honored to hear from you ladies – even a shout out on social media!
As the coaches work hard to build both the men’s and women’s programs back up to top 10 teams nationally, it won’t just take a few of us cheering in the stands to help. It will take all of us who once loved Gamecock track and field, because it was our life, to stand up and give them a hand! If you left sour, put it past you. Why carry that around with you? Support a place that supported you! I was so thrilled to see so many proud alums with big smiles. As a long-time employee and now supporter of the program, Coach Frye inspired My Man and I to pledge to join the Gamecock Club when we get home.
I will close with this series of photos I took of the men’s 110m hurdles getting ready at the start. I stood behind the finish line, laughing with throwers Bert Sorin and Mattias Ohlsson. I said, “People always want to compare LeBron James and Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, etc. I would love to see Terrence Trammell (two-time Olympic silver medalist, also a Gamecock alum) line up with the SEC finalists this year in his prime and show them what’s up.” They all laughed and said ‘YES!’ I thought to myself, ‘Terrence’s PR was 13.19 – he could beat these guys!’ Scary, I remembered his PR!
If it’s to be … it’s up to me.
What’s to do … let’s do it
Who can? I can!