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Gamecock Success Week: Leading in Academics and Community Service
July 5, 2016

By Brad Muller | More Features

South Carolina student-athletes continue to break records, and not just on the playing field. In the last academic year, the Gamecocks put up impressive numbers in the classroom by leading the Southeastern Conference in the number of student-athletes placed on the league’s academic honor roll. The Gamecock student-athletes also took part in more than 11,000 hours of community service efforts, which not only led the SEC, but also set a new school record.

“Our student-athletes work hard in the classroom and study hall to achieve the honor of being on the SEC Academic Honor Roll," Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. "In the University of South Carolina Athletics Department, we look at the term ‘success’ not just in athletics, but also academics, community service and life skills. With the hard work of Maria Hickman and her staff at the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center, our student-athletes have the opportunity to succeed in all phases of their college experience.”

All totaled, South Carolina led the SEC by placing 381 student-athletes on the SEC’s honor rolls in the last academic year. South Carolina led the 2015 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll for the tenth straight year with 94 student-athletes on the list. After posting 75 student-athletes on the SEC Winter Academic Honor Roll, South Carolina posted 113 on the SEC Spring Academic Honor Roll, which ranked second in the league and marked the 10th consecutive year that the Gamecocks had more than 100 on the spring list. South Carolina also led the league with 99 student-athletes on the SEC First Year Academic Honor Roll.

Additionally, South Carolina's Swimming and Diving programs placed 21 student-athletes on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Scholar All-America list, while women’s track and field senior Erica Rucker was a CoSIDA Academic All-American. Men’s basketball senior Mindaugas Kacinas, women’s basketball senior Tiffany Mitchell, men’s soccer senior Jeffrey Torda and junior Ive Burnett, women’s soccer junior Chelsea Drennan, and softball junior Kaylea Snaer were named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team. Both the men and women’s soccer teams earned the NSCAA Team Academic Award, which is presented to teams that earn a composite grade point average of 3.0 or higher. The women’s swimming and diving team posted the nation’s highest GPA for the spring semester, while the cross country team posted the second highest GPA in the nation.

In the last six years we’ve done over 40,000 hours of community service. This year we led all schools in the SEC by at least 4,000 hours.
Erica Nelson, Director of Life Skills & Community Outreach

The playing fields and the classrooms weren’t the only places that South Carolina student-athletes achieved as the Gamecocks led the SEC with 11,153.5 hours of community service, which surpasses last year’s total of 8,860 hours. Those impressive numbers are nothing new.

“We’re up more than 2,000 hours from last year,” said Erica Nelson, Director of Life Skills and Community Outreach. “It’s actually the third straight year we’ve broken the athletics department record for service hours. In the last six years we’ve done over 40,000 hours of community service. This year we led all schools in the SEC by at least 4,000 hours. We are clearly getting it done in this area.”

“The commitment that our student-athletes have for community service is a large component of our overall mission for Gamecock athletics,” Tanner said. “Our department is charged with developing our student-athletes intellectually, athletically, socially and culturally to become ‘Champions’ in all phases of their lives. They accomplish these tasks with pride, passion and class. I hear many inspirational stories of their impact on people around our region. Our student-athletes represent our University very well, and I am proud of their accomplishments.”

While each student-athlete is required to perform some service as dictated by his or her individual team, Nelson also said that community service is now part of the culture at South Carolina.

“It’s just an expectation now as a Gamecock student-athlete,” Nelson said. “I talk to recruits about it. When I talk at team meetings, I talk about different ways they can give back. Sometimes I’m just collecting the hours, because they’ve just gone out and done the work without any assistance from me.

“Some understand that doing community service can also be a way to build their resume, but really they just want to give back when they have some spare time. During the floods last year, I had a lot of coaches reach out to me in numbers I hadn’t seen before to really do something where they could give back.”

A total of 534 South Carolina student-athletes averaged 20.9 hours of service to the community in the 2015-16 academic year. Indoor volleyball earned South Carolina Athletics’ Community Outreach Team of the Year award after leading the way with each student-athlete averaging 96.2 hours of service, which is also a department record.

“That is off the charts,” Nelson said. “There were some seniors on the volleyball team that really did not want to finish their careers without winning that award. Volleyball has won it four times overall in the last 14 years that we have been doing the award. Softball and women’s soccer have each won it three times.

“There is definitely competition between some of the teams. I keep our teams abreast of where they are on a quarterly basis. There were teams that were running neck and neck, and the community is the beneficiary of that.”

Individually, track and field’s Olivia Hassler led the way with 359 hours of service during her senior year, while volleyball’s junior Koko Atoa-Williams was right on her heels with 350.5 hours.

“A big thing for me is just reaching out to people who support us,” Hassler said. “It’s really important to reach out to the community that provides us with a lot of support. It’s important to me, and it’s always been that way for me. It’s important for people to know there are things that are more important to us than just athletics. There is a lot more to us than just being athletes out there on the field. I’m very proud to have some kind of effect on our community.”

“They just ‘get it,’ as do many of our student-athletes,” Nelson said. “Twelve of our teams increased their overall service hours this year.”

Service efforts range everywhere from mentoring elementary school children, helping out at Harvest Hope Food Bank or Ronald McDonald House, serving meals at Transitions homeless shelter, or spending time with youngsters at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital or with the elderly in nursing homes. Sometimes, individuals and teams can get creative.

“Men’s tennis actually adopted two young brothers who were suffering with a form of eye cancer,” Nelson said. “They took them to sporting events, went 'trick or treating' with them and really made them part of their family. Volleyball worked with Pets Inc., and did some pet-sitting over weekends.”

“I’m a huge fan of kids, so I love doing anything with kids and youth groups,” Hasssler said. “Whether its reading with kids or playing sports with them, anything that can affect a child’s life is great.”

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