Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 27, 2015, 9:59 a.m.
Presbyterian College’s presence in my hometown has been a distinct pleasure for most of my life. I didn’t go there. I went to Furman University because I wanted to be close enough to come home when I wanted but not so close that I’d have to come home every time the hogs got out.
I know. It’s funny. It’s also true. If I had gone to college in my hometown, there would have been no peace from my late, great, larger than life father.
Last night, the Blue Hose men’s basketball team pulled off an upset, defeating Coastal Carolina, 80-69, in the final game at Templeton Center for seniors Jordan Downing and William Truss. The victory lifted Presbyterian to 10-20 overall, 6-12 in the Big South Conference. Coastal Carolina fell to 21-9 and 12-6. The seniors combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds. Downing surpassed 1,500 points for his career.
Head coach Gregg Nibert won for the 400th time in 26 seasons coaching the Blue Hose. I’ve known Gregg since he was an assistant at Furman and I was the sports information director. His young team lost seven straight before finally, Thursday night, in the final home game and penultimate conference game, No. 400 fell, and it was against Cliff Ellis. The Chanticleers’ coach formerly plied his trade at South Alabama, Clemson, and Auburn, and has won 688 games.
The college is worth a lot to our community, not the least of which is just giving us something to do. The Blue Hose kept me occupied when I was six and 56 (that’s not my won-lost record, except maybe in romance). Neither the football nor the basketball team play in the same place they did when I was a kid. The old Bailey Memorial Stadium (at one time known more as Walter Johnson Field, not for “The Big Train” but a PC coaching legend) is now used, I believe, for lacrosse. Leroy Springs Gymnasium is now the student center. When I was a boy, if PC had a women’s basketball team, I never knew it, and I don’t think I knew what lacrosse was. Johnson Field was a great place for kids to play tackle football with wadded-up paper cups on the grass behind the bleachers in one end zone. We kept up with the game by listening to the public-address announcer tell us that Wally Bowen had just hit Lynn Dreger for a 19-yard completion to the 37.
And Springs! The weirdest gym ever. Three quarters of the seats were in a balcony behind one goal, with about five rows of stands on each side of the court and one long bench that ran the length of the floor on side balconies that were little more than walkways.
The Blue Hose have only been playing in their present home, Templeton Center (and Furman Pinson Court) for, oh, close to 40 years now. It has taken PC from the NAIA, to NCAA Division II, to Division I and, in football, the Football Championship Subdivision. After a long dry spell, Harold Nichols led the football team to a 6-5 record last fall, and let the record note that three of the losses were to Northern Illinois, North Carolina State, and Ole Miss, all of which played in bowl games.
I divide my football Saturdays between the Furman Paladins and the Presbyterian Blue Hose. Furman is the alma mater. PC is the hometown school. The worst night of the fall for me was the night PC beat Furman, 17-10. I was all in for the Blue Hose every other week.
On Thursday night, Justin Bethel, the Arizona Cardinals’ cornerback, two-time Pro Bowler, and ex-Blue Hose, was at the basketball game, and he must have shaken hands with half the crowd. When I go to PC games, I do more than watch. I talk football with Coach Nichols and some of his assistants. Both candidates for mayor in Tuesday’s election are at every home game. Last night I joked with Bob McLean, the incumbent, that I had been sitting on the Danny Cook side for most of the season, but it was just a coincidence, and I live just outside the city limits, anyway. I watched the game with the editor and publisher of The Clinton Chronicle, Larry Franklin. Before the game, I had steak teriyaki at Japan, along with two egg rolls, and I realized later that the Blue Hose are 2-0 when I eat there before the game. My bad. I didn’t figure out the superstition until too late.
In the lobby, beforehand and at half, I talk Clinton Red Devils, Clemson Tigers, Carolina Gamecocks, and what in tarnation is going to happen at South Carolina State, with a variety of people similarly inclined to pick up a box of popcorn and a 20-ounce Diet Pepsi (three dollars, can’t afford not to). Getting in the ballgame costs six. A man can’t beat that sitting at home watching ESPN.
Most games, the retired dean of students, Joe Nixon, and I loudly commiserate the inability of modern officials to call walking. Or traveling. Whichever one prefers, the refs prefer neither.
The Blue Hose are off to Winthrop on Saturday, then the Big South Tournament in Conway, which is the home of Coastal Carolina, which, as the name suggests, is near Myrtle Beach. The women’s team, which has won two straight in overtime, is at home against Winthrop on Saturday afternoon. Ronny Fisher, the women’s coach, is another of the nicer fellows in town. Offhand, I can’t think of anyone at PC who isn’t among the nicer fellows in town.
Clinton has lots of nice fellows and similarly nice ladies, and an inordinate amount of them are available for mingling at home football and basketball games. I’m also fond of Blue Hose baseball, and Holy Cross is in for single games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, weather permitting. Despite a 3-0 setback at Georgia on Tuesday, the Blue Hose enter the weekend 6-3 on the young season. Athletic director Brian Reese has noted that the presence of a brand-new scoreboard has quieted my grumbling at the games. Now, however, I’m grousing about how they need new dugouts, real ones that are “dug out,” and that way they wouldn’t block the view as much.
The optimum fan, of course, spends three quarters of his time staunchly supporting the team and the rest complaining. It’s because we all want things to get better, no matter how they currently are.
I’ll be getting back to NASCAR shortly. Practice is on TV even as I write. I would also like to invite you to read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and I’m hoping this, and that, will whet your appetite for my writing, and that way you’ll buy one or two or five of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1#