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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dawn Staley finally ran into an opponent she could not beat. Monday’s big campus return celebration for the NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks, conquerors of women’s hoops, was pushed back four hours because of dangerous southern weather reaching town.
When the severe thunderstorm watch was joined by a tornado watch, the big welcome at the arena got called off completely. People can show up Sunday for a parade honoring the 2017 NCAA women’s basketball champions.
Weather permitting, they will show up.
Walking around South Carolina’s state capital between storm bursts, it’s obvious: Philadelphia has to share Staley now. John Chaney can send his former Temple University colleague flowers. (He did.) Mayor Kenney can gush about the Dobbins Tech graduate. (He has.) But this state has no intention of letting go of the pride of North Philly.
After South Carolina knocked off Mississippi State on Sunday night, George Rogers, Heisman-winning Gamecocks football icon, asked on Twitter if there will be a Dawn Staley Drive on campus.
It’s not surprising that the hoops fans in town all go for Staley. Who doesn’t like a champion? Yes, this was Staley’s first NCAA title as player or coach, but she won Olympic gold three times, and was selected by her fellow Olympians to carry the American flag at the 2004 opening ceremonies.
The Rev. Paul Sterne, a campus chaplain who admits to not being a huge sports fan, said Staley, who will be the 2020 USA Olympic women’s basketball coach, won him over when she was commencement speaker a couple of years ago. She talked about what she had to learn after she took over here, how her “northern style” wasn’t working. Not her words – “my interpretation,” he said of her talking about how she was too demanding in the beginning.
“I was inspired by how humble she was,” Sterne said.
A group of undergraduate freshmen out celebrating a birthday noted that Staley won them over immediately in the fall by personally delivering Bojangles chicken to the dorms. They got some? “Of course,” said Wallace Woods, celebrating her 19th birthday.
“An awesome amount of Bojangles,” said Leigh Ann Turner.
The group of five was asked if they knew where Staley was from. They did not. Another big Gamecocks fan, Dillard Trapp, a sophomore, was asked the same question. He did not. He grew up here. In his eyes, she’s from here.
“She’s always visible,” Trapp said. “It’s not like when she’s out there, no one can talk to here. She doesn’t keep the girls away. We can talk to them.”
She offers perspective. Asked about going to the White House, Staley said “It’s what it stands for. It’s what national champions do. We’ll go to the White House.”
That kind of answer isn’t new for Staley. She’s had to negotiate around sensitive political issues before. She works in a state that had a confederate flag flying blocks from her office. She publicly backed its removal, as did South Carolina men’s coach Frank Martin.
It’s fair for Philadelphia to share Staley with South Carolina since South Carolina gave Philadelphia world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, a native of Beaufort, S.C. That’s a pretty strong group of sports heroes who have the same places in common from opposite directions.
That doesn’t mean Philadelphia should give Staley up. She’s never left her native city behind. Maybe she doesn’t beat people down here over the head with it but she’s always bringing up that she’s from North Philly.
A suggestion for Philadelphia’s mayor, who has proven to be a legit hoops fan: Either a street or a statue – Staley should get one or the other in Philadelphia. Don’t wait until she’s gone like the city did with Frazier. Do it right. Don’t let these folks in South Carolina get the better of us.