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Simmer down, USC fans -- new plates aren't an ad for Clemson

This undated photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles shows South Carolina's new license plate, which features a palmetto tree, crescent and a Web site inviting visitors to travel to the state.
This undated photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles shows South Carolina's new license plate, which features a palmetto tree, crescent and a Web site inviting visitors to travel to the state.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina has a new license plate, and it's sure to please Clemson fans, some people think.

The new plate depicting a dark blue, perhaps purplish, palmetto tree against a sunrise background of orange was unveiled by the Department of Motor Vehicles Tuesday after it received more than 102,000 votes in a public contest. Drivers will begin getting the new plates July 1, 2008, when they have their old ones replaced.

The man who designed the winning plate, 30-year old Matthew Kamann of Mount Pleasant, claims no allegiance in the never-ending Gamecock-Tiger feud. He grew up in Kentucky and moved to South Carolina a year ago.

A golf course designer with a love of photography and graphic design, Kamann submitted three plate images, all of which were selected as semifinalists from among the more than 300 entries.

"I would like to tell you he is not a graduate of Clemson University," Marcia Adams, director of the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, said of Kamann.

In fact, Kamann is neither a Gamecock nor a Tiger. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in turf grass design.

Kamann said the plate design was not submitted with the idea of making Clemson fans happy.

"That wasn't the intention," Kamann said. "It's just a sunrise. I work at Dunes West on a golf course. I see the sunrise every morning. That's what it was based on."

The design selected in the competition -- the first time South Carolinians determined what will be on their license plate -- bears a strong similarity to an Arizona tag showing a desert sunrise.

Kamann said he did not use the Arizona plate as a model.

The new S.C. plate replaces the aqua blue and white "Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places" tag that has been used since 1998.

A state law passed in 2002 calls for license plates to be replaced at least every six years. Adams said all of the 2.7 million license plates in the state will be replaced as part of a five-year, $25 million project.

Instead of the "Smiling Faces" phrase, a Web site, Travel2SC.com, will be on the new plates. That address is a link to the state's official tourism site.

Tourism is the state's No. 1 industry, and the new plate is supposed to give people more information about South Carolina.

"Starting this time next year, we'll have literally millions of free little billboards traveling all over South Carolina and around the country," said Marion Edmonds, the communications director for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Kamann said the palmetto tree was the focal point of his plate design.

"I know everybody's proud of it," he said. "I see it on the stickers on everybody's car."

But what about those who look at the new plates and see Clemson colors? One of the first questions Adams and Kamann faced during Tuesday's unveiling was on that point.

"It's supposed to be dark blue," Kamann said. "The state flag's dark blue."

At least one ardent Gamecock supporter, former football player Rick Sanford, said he has no problem with the new plate.

"I think it's a beautiful design," said Sanford. "It's not purple and orange. It's more like the blue in the state flag."

Kamann hopes his winning plate design is the beginning of a career in graphic arts. He participated in a plate design contest in Kentucky and said seeing his work on the back of vehicles in his new state will be a big thrill.

"I'll smile every time I see it."

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