Posts Tagged Columbia

SCLEAP: Providing on-call counseling for South Carolina’s law enforcement

By Joseph Crevier

Carolina News

When gunman Sueng-Hui Cho burst into a Virginia Tech classroom building and fatally shot 32 students and professors and wounded 17 others in April 2007, law enforcement officers from all over Southwest Virginia responded to the 911 alarm.

The carnage they witnessed in Norris Hall and a campus dormitory was almost too much to absorb. Within a day, the Rev. Eric Skidmore was traveling from South Carolina to Virginia to help Blacksburg area officers cope with the aftermath of the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.

Methodist Church

Eric Skidmore and the SCLEAP team are based out of the Heyward Street United Methodist Church located at 2501 Heyward Street in Columbia.

Eric Skidmore

Eric Skidmore, program manager, was recruited in 1997 by SLED to lead the then-new South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program.

Police car

SCLEAP works largely in conjunction with the Columbia Police Department, but also extends throughout the state and to four state departments.


“That chief, she knew that they needed help because this was much bigger than a single internal peer team can take care of, because all their people were involved in it,” Skidmore, program manager for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program, said. SCLEAP is modeled on an FBI program aimed at assisting officers who have witnessed traumatic events, from widely publicized incidents to those that don’t get much attention but nevertheless leave an impression on the minds of law enforcement.

Eight years after the Virginia Tech slayings, Skidmore and his staff headed to Charleston the day after nine parishioners were killed at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by white supremacist Dylann Roof. Roof, who was sentenced to die for the crime earlier this year, had been welcomed into the church’s evening Bible study on June 17, 2015. At the benediction, he pulled out a gun and began firing at the pastor and church members in what he hoped was the launch of a race war.

“It happened of course on a Wednesday night at a Bible study, and Thursday I got a call from an administrator in Charleston County that said we’ve heard about your peer support for police officers, can you come down here and talk with us,” Skidmore said.

Upon its founding in 1997, SCLEAP only served the members of five state agencies and their family members, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina Department of Public Safety and the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon.

Today, it extends to much of the Southeast and has been involved in assisting officers who have responded to major tragedies and less publicized, but violent, incidents from domestic violence to suicides that weigh heavily on first responders. The agency also helps those who suffer with post-traumatic stress syndrome from their time in war zones, those who have alcohol and drug related issues related to their service in the military or law enforcement and suicides in law enforcement.

The SCLEAP team only responds to tragic events upon request, Skidmore said. He said relationships he has built through training and seminars have led to partnerships as far north as Ohio and as far east as Texas.

It also relies on help from peer support team members, who are law enforcement officials trained to provide counseling. SCLEAP also has a cadre of trained volunteers who are officers, mental health professionals and chaplains.

“We have worked diligently on partnership with other states. So, when Virginia Tech happened, what’s important to know about that in terms of why they called us, (is that) we knew each other and we had trained together,” Skidmore said. “It was the personal relationships between the chief of police in Blacksburg, Virginia, and peer support elements in other states.”

Skidmore, along with SCLEAP staff members Steve Shugart and Ron Kenyon, are all ordained ministers. They offer 24/7 support and counseling to non-sworn and sworn law enforcement officials upon request, many of whom are veterans of the U.S. military.

The three-man staff is required to work 37 hours a week but often works overtime without pay because of the on-call nature of it, Kenyon says.

“When I was in the army we had to go over for tours in Vietnam and we were gone for months at a time, so this isn’t that bad,” Kenyon said.

Shugart and Kenyon specialize in counseling veterans, who often choose to go into law enforcement after the military.

Dr. Jack Ginsberg, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, said signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and stress are more common in veterans because of the nature of their jobs. He uses forms of therapy ranging from simple verbal counseling to more intense types like neurotherapy, which tracks brain waves.

“Almost all returning combat veterans have a period of excessive alcohol use upon return. Three months is the minimum, six months is the typical, some of the time they will straighten out on their own,” Ginsberg says.

Ginsberg said drug use isn’t nearly as prevalent as alcohol abuse, though neither form of self-medication is helpful. In fact, they only make the problem worse, he said.

But that’s exactly what SCLEAP tries to do — minimize stress and prevent extreme cases.

“When they call, they kind of know what they’re gonna get,” Skidmore says.

“They’re gonna get people trained in a particular model, they’re gonna get mostly peer support team members, sworn officers from other agencies, they’re gonna get a mental health professional, they’re gonna get a chaplain and they’re gonna get a program that is tried and true and is sort of a standard of care in the high speed environment of public safety.”

 

Please email Joe Crevier at Joseph.Crevier@yahoo.com with any questions

, ,

All in a day’s work (service dog edition)

Photos and Story by ANNAMARIE KOEHLER-SHEPLEY, Carolina Reporter

Bustling shoppers, flashing lights, and festive music — not to mention Santa’s North Pole set up right in the middle of pedestrian paths—all signal a shopping mall during its peak holiday season.

But two-year-old Shack is cool under pressure. Despite the cheerful chaos, the service-dog-in-training waits patiently for cues to walk, to stay focused, and to not get distracted by all the sights and sounds of Columbiana Centre mall.

Shack, a Golden Retriever Labrador mix, is training for his certification test so that he can officially be released to his future handler. The test, already impressive in length and content, has the added difficulty element of taking place at the mall.

Shack is a 2-year-old Labrador and Golden Retriever mix who is currently in advanced training to officially be released to future handler Dori Tempio.

Shack is a 2-year-old Labrador and Golden Retriever mix who is currently in advanced training to officially be released to future handler Dori Tempio.

“The mall is kind of like New York City,” said Shack’s Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services instructor Maureen Leary. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

At the mall, Shack practices disregarding French fries on the floor of the food court, walking past stuffed-animal displays—his favorite toys—without blinking an eye, and keeping his eyes on his handler, even when the most friendly children walk up ready to shower him with attention.

Shack is in advanced training: He completed his basic training but is now putting in extra hours so that he can be comfortable and prepared to assist his future handler Dori Tempio, whose wheelchair adds a new dimension to Shack’s job. Leary said that Shack is adjusting to walking at the right pace by Tempio’s side.

All dogs and clients go through an in-depth matching process where a committee reviews clients’ needs and dogs’ abilities. But Leary said that Shack and Tempio had a feeling about each other from the very beginning.

“The first time Dori met Shack, he went right to her and kissed her right in the face,” Leary said.

Leary said that dogs are very visual learners and even though they have practiced with wheelchairs in training, Tempio’s chair is a little bit different.

“Some dogs aren’t as comfortable with the chairs,” Leary said. “But Shack had no troubles.”

Their relationship is plain to see as Shack rests his head peacefully on Tempio’s lap.

Dori Tempio is the community outreach and consumer rights coordinator for Able South Carolina, an organization dedicated to providing independent living services to people of all ages with all disabilties. “[He's] wonderful,” Tempio said.

Dori Tempio is the community outreach and consumer rights coordinator for Able South Carolina, an organization dedicated to providing independent living services to people of all ages with all disabilties. “[He’s] wonderful,” Tempio said.

PAALS Board of Directors’ Vice President Sheri Jordan says that it’s easy to tell if a dog is comfortable if you’re familiar with dog behavior. Shack’s relaxed, swinging tail and wide, alert eyes trainers know that he is comfortable and focused on his work.

“We’ll never put a dog in a job that the dog doesn’t like,” Jordan said.

Tempio, community outreach and consumer rights coordinator for Able South Carolina, has had service animals in the past and knows the drill when it comes to the certification test. Tempio’s office walls at Able S.C., an organization dedicated to providing independent living assistance to people of all ages with any disability, are lined with photos of her and her husband and of course, her service dogs through the years.

“I’ve taken the test every year for the last – you don’t even want to know – how many years,” said Tempio. “Still I get nervous. There’s a lot of external factors that can have nothing to do with you that can cause you not to pass.”

Shack, who is a teenager in dog years, is working on focus and tempering his natural enthusiasm before the test.

“Life is very exciting, and Shack loves life,” Leary said. “There’s a lot of things that are very normal things for dogs to do but that he can’t.”

Things like greeting everyone he meets and sniffing out food on the ground are against the rules for service dogs.

Compared to normal dogs, though, the list of things that Shack can do is exhaustive—helping Tempio get dressed in the morning, retrieving lunch from the refrigerator and opening handicap doors are only a few of Shack’s impressive skills.

Opening handicap doors is one of the ways that service-dog-in-training Shack will help future client Dori Tempio. Shack has been trained for over two years and can do everything from turning light switches on and off to helping Tempio get dressed.

Opening handicap doors is one of the ways that service-dog-in-training Shack will help future client Dori Tempio. Shack has been trained for over two years and can do everything from turning light switches on and off to helping Tempio get dressed.

Shack, along with Tempio’s previous service dog Casper, are two of more than 40 dogs that have been specially trained and placed by PAALS. Dogs come from all over the country, and once they get to be about six months old, they begin their extensive training, which lasts about two years.

PAALS rigorous program can be likened to college for service dogs. And just as colleges face routine accreditation, PAALS also goes through a strict accreditation process every five years with Assistance Dogs International, an umbrella organization for service dog training groups. Just as graduates prepare a final thesis before graduation, dogs are certified before finally starting their career.

The PAALS building is even set up as a school, with a main office, a cafeteria and a playground, where the dogs have recess.

But it’s not all treats and playground time for these dogs.

Training includes hundreds of hours of instructional time with trainers and a two-week boot camp with their future handlers, which Jordan calls “exhausting for everyone concerned.” Training also includes things like the PAALS Prison Program, where dogs spend time at the prison during the week and get trained by inmates, and the PAALS Foster Program, where dogs spend the weekend with a volunteer in his or her home.

Labrador and Golden Retrievers are successful service dog breeds because of their energy levels and temperments. “It’s really cool to see the person’s demeanor changing as they see how the dog is going to help them,” said intern Rachael McGahee.

Labrador and Golden Retrievers are successful service dog breeds because of their energy levels and temperments. “It’s really cool to see the person’s demeanor changing as they see how the dog is going to help them,” said intern Rachael McGahee.

 

Rachael McGahee, an intern at PAALS, says that the Foster Program allows the dogs exposure to normal aspects of life that they might not necessarily get at the PAALS Grampian Hills Road location.

“Little things like vacuuming help,” McGahee said. “So that when [the dog] does get placed one day, he’s not like, ‘What in the world is a vacuum?’”

This extensive training doesn’t come cheap: From start to finish, training a dog can cost between $25,000 and $40,000. As an ADI accredited service dog organization, PAALS doesn’t directly charge clients for their dog. Most of the cost is met through fundraising, with clients, excluding veterans and first responders, contributing around $5,000 in tuition for the boot camp training.

McGahee says that spending time with puppies at work is great, but that her favorite part is seeing the direct impact the dogs have on people.

“I met a veteran who had PTSD and he was paired with one of our dogs named Cookie,” McGahee said. “You could tell that his whole life was changing just by seeing how this dog was going to help him. Seeing him work with this dog and seeing it happen was really cool.”

Service dogs help with post-traumatic stress disorder by easing the individual’s fear or anxiety and acting as a buffer between the individual and the world. PAALS also trains dogs to assist individuals with autism or physical disabilities, such as with Tempio, or to work in educational or healthcare facilities. servicedogsg1web_fix

As a component of PTSD, Jordan said that some PAALS clients have experienced traumatic brain injuries, which can make remembering all of the training cues difficult.

“They can be struggling so much and then they get this dog that can help them so much, but it’s a whole new struggle,” Jordan said. “The dogs really help them, though, once they get through that.”

Jordan and Leary both stress the importance of the team effort between the dog and the handler, an aspect Tempio and Shack seem to have figured out.

“I love my Shack,” Tempio said. “[He’s] wonderful.”

, , , ,

Increase in absentee voting points to potential record Election Day turnout

Patrick Ingraham
Carolina Reporter

COLUMBIA — Lindy Smith cast an in-person absentee ballot last week, relieved to have voted several weeks before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire and Selph say the number of absentee voters is on pace to be up to 15 to 20 percent from the 2012 election, a possible indication of voter turnout on Election Day.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the number of absentee voters is on pace to be up to 15 to 20 percent from the 2012 election, a possible indication of voter turnout on Election Day.

“It puts my mind at ease a little – I’ve done my civic duty,” Smith said as she exited the Richland County Voter Registration and Elections Office on Friday. “I think not being here on Election Day could be a bit of a blessing, especially in this election.”

South Carolina and five other states allow in-person absentee voting with an excuse and a valid form of ID, which is becoming an ever-popular and convenient way for many to cast their ballots. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia permit early voting without providing a reason for voting early.

“I’ll be out of town for work on election day,” Smith said. “That was probably one of the quickest and easiest times voting for me that I can remember.”

According to the state election commission registered voters can qualify for an absentee ballot if they can “provide a valid reason they cannot make it to the polls on Election Day.” There are a variety of accepted reasons for voting absentee, The most common reason for absentee voting is age related; voters 65 and older can avoid standing in long lines by casting an early ballot.

Richland County Voter Registration and Elections Office director Sam Selph said most absentee voters are primarily 65 and older.

Richland County Voter Registration and Elections Office director Sam Selph said most absentee voters are primarily 65 and older.

South Carolina Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said absentee voting is up 15 to 20 percent since the 2012 general election. That trend is mirrored in Richland County, said Sam Selph, director of the Richland County Voter Registration and Elections office.

“We are somewhat working with that pace here,” Selph said. “I can’t explain the upward momentum in absentee voting, but I’m happy to see it. What we wanted to do here in this county was make voting readily available to the citizen in a quick and easy way.”

Selph became director of the office after the 2012 election, when some Richland County voters were forced to wait five to seven hours to vote, with hundreds more forced to give up on their chance to vote when the polls closed. There were also issues with votes not being counted and misplaced ballots.

Many attribute the 2012 situation to a lack of voting machines and malfunctioning machines at numerous county precincts. South Carolina law requires one machine for every 250 voters. Former Elections and Voter Registration office director Lillian McBride admitted this protocol was not followed and resigned from her post in January 2013.

Selph says this time around, there should be more than enough voting machines and he expects wait times to be minimal.

Gloria Godfrey is a Richland County poll worker and voted absentee in-person. Godfrey said she was eager to get her voting out of the way.

Gloria Godfrey is a Richland County poll worker and voted absentee in-person. Godfrey said she was eager to get her voting out of the way.

“At my largest precinct…which has over 4,100 registered voters, I’m anticipating at least a 65 to 70 percent turnout so we’ve made sure we have the necessary number of machines at each polling location.” Selph said. “There will be lines, don’t get me wrong, but the wait time should not be long. In 2012 we also had long referendums on the ballot, this time around we don’t have any of that.”

Richland County leads the state in ballots that have been turned in prior to Election Day with 21,931 according to State Election Commission’s absentee voting statistics as of Oct. 21.

Of those nearly 22,000 voters, more than 12,000 have returned their ballot via mail while more than 9,000 have voted in person.

Another possible reason for the increase in absentee voting could be because of the high number of Americans who view the presidential candidates unfavorably and are tired of the constant media attention on the mud-slinging campaigns of both candidates.

According to Real Clear Politics in an aggregated average of 9 different polls, 61 percent of Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably, while 53 percent of Americans view Hillary Clinton unfavorably.

A poll worker brings an additional voting machine into the Hampton Street polling location. State law requires one machine per 250 voters, a protocol that was not followed at all county polling locations in the 2012 election.

A poll worker brings an additional voting machine into the Hampton Street polling location. State law requires one machine per 250 voters, a protocol that was not followed at all county polling locations in the 2012 election.

“I thought about that dynamic early on when we started noticing upward mobility in absentee voting,” Selph said. “I’m thinking that possibly because of that dissatisfaction that they say, ‘well let’s go ahead and vote and get it out of the way!’”

Gloria Godfrey works at the Valhalla precinct that meets at Spring Valley High School as a poll worker and was eager to submit her ballot on Monday morning. Poll workers and managers are excused to vote absentee.

“I’m always happy to get my voting out of the way,” Godfrey said. “I’m ready to get it over with.”

When asked if any new relevant information regarding either of the candidates comes out prior to Election Day, Godfrey said she wouldn’t regret her decision.

“It is what it is, I can’t change anything,” Godfrey said.

,

Six Months After: Eric Buff’s Story

FloodTourP3_cd


By Jamie Ussery
Carolina Reporter

In the early morning of Oct. 4, 2015 as a relentless, steady rain fell outside, Eric Buff received a telephone call from his older sister.

Diana Woodward told him floodwaters had inundated her yard and were pouring into her garage on Columbia’s Timberlane Drive, a neighborhood of mostly ranch style houses near Gills Creek. He got a second call at 7 a.m.: Water was up to her knees. By that time, Buff was pumping water out of his basement on nearby Whispering Pines Circle.

Soon, his street was engulfed in 10 feet of water, but his home was undamaged. He opened his home to his neighbors and sister who escaped with nothing but the clothes on their back. They watched their houses go under water in the worst flooding disaster the city of Columbia has ever witnessed.

The morning after the flood, Buff lent a hand to a neighbor. He reali

zed that everything in their house – furniture, appliances, clothing – had to go, but they had the opportunity of saving the hardwood floors.

“From that moment on, my life was consumed in gutting homes,” he said.

Six months later, Buff worries that the future of the Gills Creek-area neighborhood is dim. Houses sit vacant and mold inside continues to creep. In a race against mold and rot, city and county officials say they are hard at work collecting necessary funds for the homes damaged by the floodwater.

Eric Buff, a Gills Creek resident, explains how properties on the bottom of the hill were totally submerged. Buff said that certain roads looked like white water rapids the first night of the flood. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

Eric Buff, a Gills Creek resident, explains how properties on the bottom of the hill were totally submerged. Buff said that certain roads looked like white water rapids the first night of the flood. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

The tragic disaster left many without water, power and a home. There were 19 weather-related fatalities in South Carolina. In the wake of the flood, 2,324 households in Richland County received temporary housing assistance, because the water damage was significant enough that they had to leave their homes.

Officials with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said there are currently 383 individuals statewide still receiving rental assistance with 70 in Richland County.

Buff, who sells merchandise at USC football games, and other volunteers gutted 17 homes in the neighborhood in 10 days. Buff said he did not leave the neighborhood for nine days because he was working so hard.

Although some efforts have been made to fix the houses and apartments around Gills Creek, most remain stripped and boarded up. Rebuilding means red tape and permit issues, which slows down the process, according to Buff. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

Although some efforts have been made to fix the houses and apartments around Gills Creek, most remain stripped and boarded up. Rebuilding means red tape and permit issues, which slows down the process, according to Buff. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

His main goal was to get everything out of the houses and board up windows and door to keep the house from molding. This was the best way to salvage the house to either be repaired or bought out, he said.

Buff, who continues volunteering through the St. Bernard Project, remains frustrated because some of the residents did not obtain proper permits and had to stop the work they were doing. Some left shortly after, never completing the process they started, and Buff said this makes the neighborhood look worse.

In order to rebuild, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requires each house in the flood zone to be lifted two feet above the 100-year floodplain. The floodplain level is different for every area.

Raising a home could cost anywhere from $15-$18 per square foot, said Earl McLeod, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. That figure could be beyond the budgets of many residents of Timberlane Drive and surrounding streets. Buff believes his neighbors do not have the necessary means to meet these requirements.

FEMA gives an extra $30,000 to those who had flood insurance to raise their home and have committed to rebuilding.

Timberlane Drive has an average elevation of 136 feet above sea level. This street is in the floodway and floodplain; the 100-year level is 142.7 feet above sea level. To rebuild and comply with FEMA, a home must sit two feet above that mark, which would mean raising the average home of Timberlane Drive eight feet.

Without rebuilding, the houses must be bought out, and Buff said that doesn’t seem promising.  “(I have) no trust in what they say about a buyout,” Buff said.  “I don’t think they’re going to do it.”

The flood currents were so strong, according to Buff, that the white shed was lifted off its original foundation and landed on a neighbor’s chainlink fence – approximately 50 feet away. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

The flood currents were so strong, according to Buff, that the white shed was lifted off its original foundation and landed on a neighbor’s chainlink fence – approximately 50 feet away. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

Ali Khan, city floodplain manager, said the city and county are collecting data to determine which houses they can purchase and which homeowners are looking for a buyout.

The city and county are expecting to receive federal hazard mitigation money that will be used to perform these buyouts. The deadline for applying is this October.

Khan said that people should start seeing progress within the next few months.

Andrea Bolling, Richland County floodplain manager, said the county is pursuing all available federal funding opportunities and is hopeful the county will be awarded grant funding in order to continue with the recovery process.

The state estimates the total funding it will receive under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is $36 million, with $9 million currently projected for housing acquisition projects.  Richland County is developing grant applications in order to pursue the HMGP funding.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program helps communities, which have been declared by the president as a major disaster.

Homes on Timberlane Drive that are banked owned have gone largely untouched. Restoration without bank permission is illegal, leaving the houses to mold, rot, and subject to vandalism. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

Homes on Timberlane Drive that are bank owned have gone largely untouched. Restoration without bank permission is illegal, leaving the houses to mold, rot, and subject to vandalism. Photo courtesy of Colin Demarest.

Hazard mitigation is the “actions taken to eliminate long term risks to people and property from natural hazards,” according to FEMA.

Looking forward, Buff only sees property values plummeting and a neighborhood in decline.

The S.C. Emergency Management Division is aware “the recovery process is not over and voluntary agencies and case managers remain active in the state today,” the agency said in a statement.  Bolling said the likely scenario for homes damaged in the flood like Timberlane Drive, that are so close to the creek, is purchase and demolition. This is to help reduced future risk, she said.

Buff still worries that the city and county may not receive the necessary funding to complete this project, leaving the homes sitting vacant.

“Time will tell, but I don’t feel so confident that it will happen,” Buff said.


View further coverage of the six month anniversary of October’s historic flood here:

, , , ,

Back in Columbia: Cooper more satisfied with pro day

Pharoh Cooper


By John Del Bianco
Carolina Reporter

Pharoh Cooper wasn’t particularly happy with his performance at the NFL Combine. Back in his comfort zone at Williams-Brice Stadium, the former South Carolina star wide receiver walked away feeling good about his pro timing day.

Seventeen Gamecocks wore cleats on their college field one last time as they tried to woo NFL personnel for a shot at a professional career.

Cooper catch

Pharoh Cooper said he focused on his route running in between the NFL Combine and Wednesday. He did not drop a single ball during wide receiver pro day drills.

Cooper, a highlighted player for a number of teams, just wanted to come out and show that he is the football player teams are looking for, regardless of his timing and drill performances.

“I’m not a big test guy. I’m not going to run a 4.3 [40-yard dash] or jump 40 inches,” Cooper said. “I’m just going to go out there and play football. … I’m not no fast burner, I’m a football player.”

A minor quad injury kept Cooper off the field for some workouts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. In the drills he did participate in, he worried that he didn’t perform to his capabilities.

In Columbia Wednesday, surrounded by family, teammates, and a group of scouts, he felt better about his chances to go high in the NFL Draft next month.

“I didn’t even do everything so I left a bad mark on my name at the combine, dropped a couple balls. I was just glad to be back in South Carolina with my old teammates,” Cooper said.

The two-time All-SEC talent racked up 2,163 receiving yards in three seasons at Carolina. As he pushes towards a professionalScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.02.13 AM career, Cooper believes his special teams experience adds to his overall résumé.

“Having experience at special teams helps a lot moving forward. All of them talk to me about playing special teams whether it be punt returner, kick returner, or a gunner,” Cooper said. “They know I played defense in high school so they know I can go down there and tackle somebody if I need to.”

NFL teams evaluate a player off the field as well. Cooper was raised in a military family and believes that his disciplined background is an asset.

“I think a lot of coaches like that, you know, being disciplined,” he said. “They know I’m a good character guy. They don’t have to worry about any issues off the field.”

NFL scouts lined up at the 50-yard line with stopwatches in their hands as Gamecocks ran the 40-yard dash.

NFL scouts lined up at the 50-yard line with stopwatches in their hands as Gamecocks ran the 40-yard dash.

Cooper said he has had talks with the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, and New Orleans Saints. The Saints have scheduled a private workout with him for next week.

The former three-star recruit is confident he will be drafted on the second day of draft weekend. Team officials have hinted he could be selected on the second or third round.

According to CBSSports.com, Cooper is ranked the No. 7 draft eligible wide receiver and No. 56 overall player. The website has Cooper a projected second round pick.

“I’m just going to keep working out, keep praying about it. I feel like I did good today and keep working out until I hear my name called. That’s all I can do.”

 

, , , , ,

Spring practice: Gamecocks on offense have to prove themselves

John Del Bianco


By John Del Bianco
Carolina Reporter

Look left to right on the practice field and up and down the depth chart and it is evident that the South Carolina offense is full of players trying to prove themselves.

John Del Bianco

The quarterback race is one of the biggest storylines this spring for the Gamecocks. The signal callers wear yellow to differentiate from the garnet color jerseys the rest of the offense wears.

At skill positions like running back and wide receiver there is little past production the new Gamecocks coaching staff can rely on this fall and even to this point, midway through spring practices.

Under center, there are a handful of quarterbacks varying in age and experience. The one with the most experience started a handful of games on last season’s 3-9 team.

The team’s group of wide receivers is the youngest and most inexperienced on the team. Sophomore Deebo Samuel played in five games with 12 receptions last year. That leads the team.

“Everyone out here is just trying to prove themselves worthy of playing on Saturdays,” sophomore wide receiver Terry Googer said. “I feel like everyone hasJohn Del Bianco the attributes to be good at the SEC level. We just have to come out here and prove everyone wrong, which we are very capable of doing. It is good competition right now.”

It is a fluid rotation of a handful of players in the offensive backfield. Junior David Williams does not have a stranglehold on the starting spot and some youthful? at the position are fighting to make a statement on who deserves to be handed the ball this fall.

“It’s just really competitive right now,” junior tailback Rod Talley said. “It changes every day… Dave does have experience, but he does not have a boatload of experience. He’s up there, but not too far ahead where I can’t get him. It’s an even playing field for all of us. It just makes you work harder.”

What was a five-player race at quarterback looks to have whittled down to three.

John Del Bianco

Effort, Toughness, and Discipline are three words the coaching staff has done its hardest to drill into players’ heads. At the beginning and end of practices, players see this acronym on the field as they enter and exit through practice gates.

Senior Perry Orth has the experience, but was the quarterback for a majority of last season’s disappointing year. Junior Connor Mitch was the opening game starter last season, but never recovered his starting role after multiple injuries. Four-star freshman Brandon McIlwain is taking second team reps and is trying to prove himself worthy of contending for the starting spot with a senior.

Sophomore Michael Scarnecchia’s snaps have gone down while sophomore Lorenzo Nuñez’ knee injury has him on crutches.

Players are constantly reminded of the acronym “ETD” – Effort, Toughness and Discipline – and cross over the three letters as they enter and exit the practice gates behind Gamecock Park.

“If you’ve seen our offseason, seen our practices, there is nothing easy about it,” offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. “These guys have been put to the test, put through the burner in conditioning. It hasn’t been easy. We put them to the grind, they have responded, and hopefully I continues to get better.”

, , ,

Gamecocks have more to play for

NITBasketball-PW2
By John Del Bianco

Carolina Reporter


It was a hard pill to swallow Sunday as the South Carolina men’s basketball team was passed over during the NCAA Tournament selection show.

South Carolina junior guard Sindarius Thornwell says the team has refocused after being held out of the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks begin their pursuit of a NIT Championship at Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

South Carolina junior guard Sindarius Thornwell says the team has refocused after being held out of the NCAA Tournament. USC begin its pursuit of a NIT Championship at Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Just 90 minutes later, the Gamecocks were chosen as a No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), a less prestigious but still reputable tourney. Rather than sitting around wondering what could have been, the team recycled its disappointment into motivation.

“We all were disappointed when we didn’t see our name up,” said junior guard Sindarius Thornwell. “As far as being ready for the NIT, we are approaching it as we can still win a championship. There is still an opportunity. None of us have been in the postseason. Being in the NIT allows us to play in the postseason and it’s a step forward to the NCAA Tournament.”

In head coach Frank Martin’s four-year tenure, the program has gone from 14 wins in 2013Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 4.05.09 PM and 2014, to 17 wins last season, and a 24-8 mark this season.  The best regular season record in program history was not good enough to make the tournament this year, but this group still has a chance to compete.

“We’re kind of lucky we are in that group [of teams still playing],” Martin said. “We weren’t there four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, or last year. We are now and it’s another step in the right direction.”

When the 68-team bracket was complete without the Gamecocks listed, it was disheartening, especially for a group of upperclassmen that would have enjoyed playing in the prestigious tournament for the first time in their careers.

“During the season it was in our hands, but last night it wasn’t,” senior forward Laimonas Chatkevicius said Monday. “We were hoping for the best and it didn’t happen. It is what it is and we need to keep our heads up and come out in the NIT and do our best.”

Martin said the team’s regular season finale victory on the road at Arkansas two weeks ago gave him and his players a sense that they had done enough to get in the Big Dance.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 4.05.29 PM“I’m still not over it, but I can’t let the players know that,” Martin said. “If I walk around them and hold my head down and whine and pout, then what do I expect the 20-year-olds to do? It’s a great lesson for all of us to learn. There are going to be other things in life that hurt a lot more than not going to the NCAA Tournament.”
Moving forward, the team will host No. 8 seed High Point on Tuesday at Colonial Life Arena at 7 p.m. The Panthers, of the Big South Conference, were regular season conference champions with a 21-10 record. It’s a team that Martin believes has the  “DNA of a championship team.”

The Gamecocks are 15-2 at home this season and control their own destiny in the 32-team bracket as a top seed. Three consecutive wins at home from March 15-23 would advance them to the semifinals, held at the famous Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“It’s an opportunity to win a championship and that’s what we want,” Thornwell said. “The ultimate goal is to win every game and that is what we are focused to do. We’re going to take full advantage of it.”

This NIT appearance will be the 12th in program history and the 10-year anniversary of the program’s last tournament championship. The Gamecocks hoisted the NIT championship trophy in New York in 2005 and 2006.

, , , ,

USC matching records on way to NCAA Tournament berth

USC defense

John Del Bianco
Carolina Reporter


 

As a USC freshman three years ago, Duane Notice never imagined he would be explaining the breathless feel and excitement of a record-breaking season.

Now, the junior says the conversation comes up after every win.

The Gamecocks have benefited from playing in front of their fans with a 15-1 home record this season. The team has three games left in the regular season, one at home. Photo by Colin Demarest.

The Gamecocks have benefited from playing in front of their fans with a 15-1 home record this season. The team has three games left in the regular season, one at home. Photo by Colin Demarest.

Notice led the Gamecocks (23-5, 10-5) with 17 points en route to an 84-58 blowout victory over Tennessee on Wednesday night. After the game, he learned the team tied a 12-year-old record.

The win was the 23rd on the season, a record that had not been matched since the 2003-04 season, the last time the team qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

A postseason berth or tournament seed will not be announced until March 13, but according to ESPN’s Bracketology expert, Joe Lunardi, the Gamecocks are projected to be a No. 7 seed.

“It feels good to be on top and have this feeling when it comes to this amount of wins because we’ve been through the struggle,” Notice said. “It’s a great feeling right now seeing the program go in the right direction.”USC graphic

Head coach Frank Martin said following the game on Wednesday that there will be a time to step back and embrace the season’s accomplishments. Now is not the right time.

“Right now we have to stay the course. We have a chance to finish off the season the right way,” Martin said. “You want to play your best basketball of the year now, not in December. It’s important that we don’t get wrapped up in those successes.”

The Gamecocks remain in the hunt for a regular season Southeastern Conference Championship and a top four, double-bye seed in the SEC Tournament.

Just one game behind first place Kentucky, South Carolina would need to win its remaining games against Mississippi State, Georgia, and Arkansas along with getting some help from UK’s final three opponents.

Should the two teams tie for first place, the Gamecocks would be named co-champions of the SEC, the first time they have had a share or outright conference championship since the 1996-97 season.

“The past experiences, the only thing it should do is reinforce in their minds that we are a good basketball team when we play a certain way,” Martin said. “That should give them a comforting feeling that over 28 games we’ve established ourselves as a good team. That does not change the future. You have to keep working, keep getting better.”

basketball pass

South Carolina junior guard Duane Notice inbounds a pass against Tennessee. Notice scored a team-high 17 points, his second consecutive start of the season. Photo by Colin Demarest.

South Carolina has played in the NCAA Tournament eight times since the postseason event’s inaugural year of 1939. In the team’s last five appearances stretching from 1974 to 2004, five first-round losses left the program winless in the “Big Dance” since 1973.

Martin’s teams the last two years have played their best basketball at the end of the year, making them outsiders for tournament contention. The Gamecocks are now firmly on the inside, and hope that late-season experience will propel them to the NCAA Tournament.

“The past couple of years we won at the end of the season and it’s been great for our confidence and our momentum, but as a team we do not want to peak too early,” Notice said. “I think now we are coming to the point where we understand how dynamic we are and how much depth we have.”

, , , ,

Play Ball!; Retailers look forward to opening weekend too

hat and ball


By John Del Bianco
Carolina Reporter

The grass is freshly mown and the batter’s box is gleaming white as USC’s Founders Park opens its 2016 season.

Down the street, less than a half-mile from home plate, the locally owned sporting goods store, Todd & Moore, is stocking shelves and clothing racks with Gamecock merchandise, hoping to lure customers in the doors as they walk to the park on opening weekend.

Todd & Moore

Todd and Moore Sporting Goods store at the corner of Devine and Huger Streets advertises its South Carolina apparel. Sitting just 0.3 miles from the university’s baseball stadium, the store is gearing up for this weekend’s start to the season. Photo by John Del Bianco

The 72-year-old business isn’t the only sporting goods establishment hoping to capitalize on fans who love to wear all things garnet and black, but they like the proximity to the ballpark.

Given the store is a baseball throw away from the stadium seats, Vice President Tim Robertson and sales associate Beth McCrary always see a jump in store activity on spring game days.

“The typical fans that go to those games come here and shop,” Robertson said. “A lot come for Gamecock merchandise, but then other things they might need as well. The game that generates 4,000 to 6,000 people can mean some extra traffic for us.”

McCrary said hot items during baseball season include scorebooks, Under Armour S.C. hats, and sweaters for that mid-February to late-March Columbia

jersey

Pinstripe jerseys are a fan favorite at the ballpark, as this classic look is usually worn by the Gamecocks for Friday night home games. Photo by John Del Bianco

baseball weather. She said that more shipments of USC baseball merchandise are on the way.

“We absolutely see increased traffic. We have a unique location in that we are literally on the way to Carolina Stadium,” McCrary said.

Other Gamecock merchandise retailers are also within the area. Garnet and Black Traditions is a short walk across the Blossom Street bridge into Cayce; Addam’s Bookstore is a quick drive to Assembly Street; and Miss Cocky is on Gadsden Street.

At the corner of Devine and Huger Streets, Todd & Moore sits in an evolving location in Columbia, surrounded by newly built student housing and within walking distance from other venues like Colonial Life Arena, The Vista, and campus.

schedule “We are very fortunate. This area is booming with student housing, the remodeling. The Todd and Moore family were visionaries. We were here first,” McCrary said.

It started on Main Street 1944 as Todd’s Sporting Goods. The Moore family married into the business two years later. The business stood on Main Street until 1969 and then moved to its current location.

Robertson said the store is not only influenced by the ballplayers in college, but the Little Leaguers aspiring to be Gamecocks one day.

“Baseball is a huge part of our spring season, not necessarily the people that are going to that baseball game, but all of the children that are playing baseball,” said Robertson, who has worked at Todd and Moore for nearly 44 years. “There is a lot of interest in baseball in South Carolina, particularly in the Midlands area.”

The interest fully spikes this weekend as South Carolina takes on Albany to start the season.

, , , ,