May 16, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick dropped dimes and caught waves on her way to being inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame recently. The former South Carolina women’s basketball standout from 1982-1986 has enjoyed a decorated life in sports, which included earning All-America honors three times with the Gamecocks and later becoming a surfing champion.
“I cried,” Fitzpatrick said of her recent hall of fame induction. “My parents died a few years ago, and they were a big part of my career and everything I have done. I finished my speech by saying that it was the greatest sports moment of my life because it’s a tribute to their legacy. It’s not about me. It’s the legacy of my parents and family, and the coaches and teachers I had. I was blessed by really cool things that happened in my life. I’ve been really lucky.”
Fitzpatrick was a two-time prep All-American at West Carteret High School in North Carolina, where she was an inaugural member of the school’s hall of fame, had her jersey retired, and also starred in volleyball. She was recruited by many large schools around the country to play basketball.
“I was agonizing over quite a few schools,” Fitzpatrick recalled. “One my teachers said, ‘where would you go and stay in school if you didn’t play a day of basketball?’ That changed everything for me. I loved Columbia. I loved the vibe. I loved all the people I met. It just fit me a lot better. I was just very comfortable in Columbia, and I still love it. If it had an ocean, I’d still be there.”
When her feet were on dry land, Fitzpatrick was spectacular on the basketball court. She scored 1,199 points in her four-year career for an average 10.4 points per game while also dishing out 5.2 assists per game and still ranks second in career assists at South Carolina. Her best scoring season came in 1985-86 as a senior when she averaged 15.2 points per game and shot 81% from the foul line while also earning All-Metro Conference honors. She helped the Gamecocks win the conference and reach the NCAA Tournament. She played with some other all-time greats at South Carolina, including fellow three-time All-Americans Martha Parker and Brantley Southers.
“Everything goes back to the relationships,” Fitzpatrick said of her best memories at South Carolina. “I was greatly affected in a positive way by Sharon Rivers, who was the point guard ahead of me, and she helped me understand the game at that position. Any records I had in terms of assists were directly related to the teammates I had, especially Sharon Gilmore and Brantley Southers. They were exceptional scorers, who made me look a lot better!”
While she has stayed in touch with many of her teammates, she didn’t get them to follow her in the next phase of her career; surfing.
“I’m not sure if any of them can swim,” Fitzpatrick deadpanned. “Actually, everybody I played with, I would love to take surfing. They’re all such great athletes. These are women that can do anything. I stay in touch thanks to the world of Facebook.”
I told my daughter that I wanted her to see A’ja (Wilson) play.
Fitzpatrick previously got into surfing thanks to interest from her two older brothers. When she finished at South Carolina, she had opportunities to play basketball overseas, but her parents were older and she wanted to stay close to them.
“My brother was trying to get me to enter surfing contests. After competing in Division I basketball, I didn’t really want to get into all of that again, but he said I’d get a t-shirt if I entered the contest, so I said OK,” Fitzpatrick laughed. “I loved competing with the other women I was always up against. There were some very successful pros who were champions, but everyone was very relaxed out there. You hope that everybody catches good waves, and you just see who wins. It’s a different feel altogether.”
As good as she was on the hardwood, Fitzpatrick found a call in the water. She won the Women’s Division at the 1994 East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach. She later won the 1994 Women’s Amateur National Championship. In September of that year, she became the first North Carolinian to win the Junior Women’s Division of the Eastern Surfing Association, and she won the same title again in 1995. Trading in her high tops for a surfboard turned out to be a great move as Fitzpatrick became passionate about what she calls a “lifetime sport.”
“I’ll do it forever,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not too hard on my body, but it’s still a very athletic and tough sport to pick up and do. I surf all the time, but I competed for around 20 years. Surfing is something I will always enjoy. It’s hard to do, but it’s so completely fun. It’s such a beautiful sport.
“The ocean is amazing and it can change very quickly. There is no sport like it.”
Fitzpatrick didn’t totally give up basketball, however, as she ran a popular nonprofit basketball camp for girls for 13 years in North Carolina.
“It was called Mindy’s Hoop Clinic,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just wanted to do something for the girls around here. I’m big on staying positive at all times, and I wanted to show kids how to play the right way, beginning with fundamentals. I had a lot of local coaches in it, and it grew from this little local camp to where we have 200 kids and four different gyms. We wanted to make sure the fundamentals were taught right, but we also wanted them to have a good time while they were doing it. It’s important that you have fun.”
For the last decade, she and her husband, Matt, along with their son, Matt Jr., and daughter, Annie, have run the very popular The Friendly Market in Morehead City. While that has prevented her from getting back to watch the Gamecocks play in-person as often as she would like, she was thrilled to take her family to Colonial Life Arena for South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament second round victory over Virginia this past season.
“I told my daughter that I wanted her to see A’ja (Wilson) play,” Fitzpatrick said. “We always had good crowds when I played, but it wasn’t rockin’ and rollin’ like it is now. That was awesome!”
Fitzpatrick said she would love to have a reunion with her old teammates in Columbia sometime, and she’d also like to teach current South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley how to surf.
“I’d definitely take her!” Fitzpatrick said. “She would be a riot, I think. She is welcome to come to the coast anytime, and I’d take good care of her. She could bring her dog (Champ), and the whole staff could come. If she ever needs a break, it’s nice and quiet here.”
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