Attending a women's soccer game at Stone Stadium brings with it a unique combination of sights and sounds — the thud of the ball launching off a player’s foot, Cocky meandering through the stands to interact with fans and the familiar playing of Sandstorm after every goal.
The most distinct game day noise comes from the opposite end of the stadium, which the drum-playing supporters' group, Graveyard Shift, calls home.
Inspired by supporters’ groups of professional soccer clubs across the country, Alex Dingman, a Columbia native and passionate soccer fan, said he wanted to bring a similar organization to the University of South Carolina. A landmark NCAA rule change in 2016, lifting a ban on noisemakers in college stadiums, provided him with that opportunity.
“We had that idea, then the rules got changed,” Dingman said. “So, we were like, 'Okay, we can actually — we can do this now.'”
The group’s name was inspired by the graveyard a short distance away from the stadium, but the moniker Graveyard Shift was not the original idea Dingman had in mind, he said.
“Originally, our name was the Grave Diggers, and that was shot down by the university really quickly,” Dingman said. “The backup name was like, Graveyard Shift. We said that, and they were like, ‘Oh, we love Graveyard Shift.’”
Justin Lewis, another Graveyard Shift member and lifelong Gamecock fan, said Graveyard Shift prides itself on its ability to provide the South Carolina women’s soccer team with a distinct home-field advantage against its opponents.
“We want to create an atmosphere where, when people come to play, it’s like, ‘Ugh, crap, we’ve got to go to South Carolina this week. It’s going to be loud. I don’t want to deal with this,'” Lewis said.
Dingman further specified these efforts to “play with the game.” He said the intensity of the group's drumming depends on in-game situations.
“When we’re attacking or when we're pressing hard, we try to play faster,” Dingman said. “If we’re on defense, we try to get slower, but still loud.”
All Graveyard Shift members can agree, though, that the most important part of what they do is forming a strong bond with players, the university itself and the local community. Additionally, they support the growth of women’s sports, opening up more opportunities that had not existed previously.
“With some sports, like baseball, you have minor leagues, and college baseball is still present,” Graveyard Shift drummer Stephen Summerlin said. “But there's a few sports where, to get to the national level, and the international level — there are not a lot of stepping-stones for women’s athletics, in general.”
Dingman said pursuing this vision has been a personally fulfilling journey, especially in regard to the relationships he has created with players on the team.
“It means the world to me,” Dingman said. “When we started this, we didn’t expect to really have true support from the team the way that we do.”
While promoting these core values, Graveyard Shift has celebrated all of the South Carolina women’s soccer team’s recent successes, including an important piece of hardware it earned after the 2019 season.
“Seeing the girls actually just get that (SEC) Championship, and just the way they've played even deep into the NCAA Tournament, it's been a joy,” Summerlin said.
Overall, Graveyard Shift sees a level of excitement that comes with every game and supporting one of the best-run women’s soccer programs in the country.
“The team itself is just, they're exciting to watch. They’re always high energy, the games are always really well done," Summerlin said. “Coach Shelley (Smith), she's just done such a great job here; she really has.”
Regardless of the result of each match, Graveyard Shift will continue attending South Carolina's home games and will support the women’s soccer team in any way it can. In the process, it will provide students and families with a match day experience unlike any other.