Carolina fans, alumni flood city for ECU game
For the majority of the student population sentenced to spend Saturday night in front of their TV sets, news that the first game of this year’s high-profile football season would go down in Charlotte, N.C., came as an unwelcome disappointment.
But 93 miles north of Columbia, 2005 USC alumnus James Wolf couldn’t have been more excited.
Since finding out about the game’s location in January, Wolf, president of the Carolina Alumni Club in Charlotte, has been busy with a master plan to “Paint Charlotte Garnet.” The initiative, supported by the My Carolina Alumni Association, means to show off the strength of Gamecock spirit in the Carolinas’ largest city, which is home to around 8,000 alumni and 7 percent of this year’s freshman class.
“It means the world to us [that the first game is here],” Wolf said. “Columbia has such a presence here, and this is an opportunity for the university to take advantage of what Charlotte offers in terms of business.”
The series of events will begin 6 p.m. Friday at the Charlotte EpiCentre with live music from USC alumni bands Ben Fagan and the Holy City Hooligans and the Love Handles. A pep rally with Cocky and the USC cheerleaders will ensue, with university President Harris Pastides and Athletics Director Eric Hyman set to attend in full Gamecock regalia. USC sideline reporter Terry Cousin, a 1996 alumnus and letterman and later cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, will also join the alumni celebration.
“I think we have alumni and fans very excited and hopeful for the season,” said Lynn Bradley, the assistant executive director for alumni engagement. “They remember their days here and stay connected and want to see the university succeed in anything it does, academically and athletically.”
The Gamecock invasion will continue Saturday morning as approximately 1,000 Carolina fans “flock” Charlotte’s uptown with Gamecock storks and signs bearing the slogan “You’ve been Gamecock’d.” Several area businesses have already joined in on the initiative, sporting garnet paraphernalia in their storefronts.
Wolf hopes the bowl-like atmosphere will impart a sense of pride upon the few hundred students coming up from Columbia to see the showdown.
“They will realize Gamecock Nation is alive and well outside of Columbia,” Wolf said. “It’s not just Gamecock Nation in our bubble — it’s everywhere.”
Cocky’s Reading Express is also joining in on the drive into Charlotte with a more service-oriented goal. Kim Jeffcoat, executive director of the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy, will travel with five to 12 students plus Cocky on Friday to nearby elementary schools in Rock Hill and Fort Mill on their usual statewide book-reading tour. Students at these schools will make the “Cocky promise” to read the books that they give out and share them. According to Jeffcoat, their stops at these schools will help lead the charge into Charlotte with literacy, as well as garnet athletic pride.