South Carolina student-athletes didn’t just put up great numbers on the fields, courts, and pools during the last academic year; they also made a big impact in the community. The Gamecocks led the SEC for the fourth consecutive year with 9,298 hours of community service.
“This represents the second most hours of community service in program history,” said Erica Nelson, Director of Life Skills and Community Outreach. “We led the conference by over 3,000 hours. Our student-athletes ‘get it.’”
“To go out and represent beyond athletics means a lot to us,” said Koko Atoa-Williams, a senior on the volleyball team. “Sometimes people think we just eat, sleep and play sports, but really it’s about things beyond sports. It means a lot that out of all 14 SEC schools, we come out on top year after year.”
Community service hours are tallied from April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017. Each team is required to do some community service, but it is up to the individual programs to determine how many hours they will require of their student-athletes.
“It was an average of 17 hours per student-athlete,” Nelson said. “Six of our teams increased their hours from last year, with beach volleyball and equestrian increasing their total by over 200 hours.”
“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes,” Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. “Each year, in the classroom, in the community and on the playing fields or courts, our student-athletes surpass the goals that they set, and those that the coaches, staff and I set for them. It takes tremendous discipline to be a student-athlete and they meet the tasks head-on. They make a difference on campus and in the community and from that, they take lessons learned here and can apply them for the rest of their lives.”
Indoor volleyball took home the coveted Community Outreach Team of the Year award for the second straight year for South Carolina Athletics with more than 1600 total hours, which comes out to a whopping 94.6 hours of service per student-athlete.
“They’ve won it a total of five times, which is more than any other team,” Nelson said. “They really wanted to win it again. Beach volleyball is getting closer to them. A lot of it is driven by the student-athletes, but you also have coaches like Moritz Moritz from beach volleyball who would give up some of their practice time on Mondays so they could do community service.”
There are so many different opportunities to serve ...There’s always something or somebody who needs help.Koko Atoa-Williams, Volleyball
Senior track and field middle distance runner Maya Evans earned the prestigious SEC Brad Davis Community Service Leader of the Year Award for her commitment to serving her community. Evans logged more than 700 hours of community service experience during her South Carolina career. Nelson noted that there is serious competition from many teams throughout the year to try to win this award for their program.
“The award really seems to motivate some teams,” Nelson said. “You also have people like Maya Evans, who just have a passion for doing it. There’s not a lot of prodding that I have to do to get our student-athletes to do this. We always try to put them where they are comfortable, whether it’s working with kids or something else, but they just ‘get it.’ It’s become part of our culture, and they’ve embraced it.”
Volleyball’s Koko Atoa-Williams led all student-athletes in this last year with 270.5 service hours.
“It gets competitive within our own team, too,” Atoa-Williams said. “We all try to rack up as many hours as we can to contribute. Our fans always help us out to get us through and win a match. They’ve always supported us, and this is a way for us to let them know how much we appreciate them. It’s all about making connections beyond the court. There’s life beyond volleyball.”
The men’s tennis team recently earned the ITA Regional Team Community Service Award. The team added two honorary members to the roster through Team Impact last season after forging a special bond with two local boys diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer. The team has taken the boys to other Gamecock athletics events, attended the boys’ sporting events, went to the movies, bowling and more.
“As a student-athlete, we get so much from our community in terms of fan support, so it’s important for us to give back and help make a difference in our community,” said Thomas Mayronne a rising senior on the men’s tennis team who led his squad in service hours and led the execution of this year’s Carolina vs. Clemson Food Drive. “Erica Nelson and the entire staff do a great job in making sure you’re doing the types community service that you are passionate about. It’s something that has become a tradition here.”
In addition to the individuals served by the student-athletes, there are numerous agencies in and around Columbia that have benefited greatly by the Gamecocks’ involvement, including Ronald McDonald House, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Transitions homeless shelter, and animal organizations such as PAALS and Pets Inc.
“There are so many different opportunities to serve, so there is always something that can fit into everyone’s schedule,” Atoa-Williams said. “We’ve done Transitions at 5 or 6 in the morning, and bingo at 8 p.m. with the elderly. There’s always something or somebody who needs help.
“Gamecock fans are so passionate, and are so committed to South Carolina athletics, so this is just a great way to give back in our community. It just shows how committed our student-athletes are to giving back as our fans are committed to our athletics teams.”
While community service efforts are on-going on an individual basis, the next larger scale annual service event takes place on July 6 as members of the football team take part in the Pigskin Poets program at the Charles Drew Wellness Center in Columbia.