College Sports

'Forever to thee'

Six USC students were killed in a beach house fire in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., over the weekend. They were members of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Flags in USC's Greek village were at half-staff Monday in memory of them.
Six USC students were killed in a beach house fire in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., over the weekend. They were members of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Flags in USC's Greek village were at half-staff Monday in memory of them.

COLUMBIA -- Sometimes, even when South Carolina is trying to break a two-game losing streak threatening to wreck a promising season, football doesn't matter.

"It is a terrible tragedy anytime family has to bury one of their children," coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday, taking time out of his preview for the No. 23 Gamecocks' match at Arkansas on Saturday for solemn reflection. "Somehow or another, tragedy struck late Saturday night."

Six USC students and one Clemson student were killed over the weekend when a rented house in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., caught fire. As the campus mourned Monday and Tuesday -- six memorials were placed on top of the Gamecock logo painted on Greene Street, in front of USC's student union -- Spurrier and his team were realizing that even two losses that have challenged the Gamecocks' SEC title chances weren't that important.

"It's very hard to handle for many players on the team," safety Emanuel Cook said. "Many players knew some of the kids that died in the fire."

Spurrier recalled his own children going to college -- the youngest, Scott, is a reserve wide receiver with the Gamecocks. Even when they're on their own and make the right decisions, he said, tragedy can happen.

"Kids go to Myrtle Beach and beaches all the time," Spurrier said. "It's very unusual that something like this happens.

"We'll remember these students and hopefully (their families) can recover."

The Gamecocks plan to honor the victims with a moment of silence before Saturday's game and with a special sticker on their helmets. A phrase from USC's alma mater -- "Forever to thee" -- will be attached, possibly for the remainder of the year.

USC is also hoping inspiration could rise from the tragedy. The victims are being remembered as passionate about everything at USC, including sports.

Trying to win the next game in their memory isn't a necessary part of the game plan, but it's in the backs of the Gamecocks' minds.

"Most look at football as, 'Hey, people going out there and hitting each other,' but I think that ... seeing the Virginia Tech thing, it increases our role on campus because we're out there, we're the ones on TV, we're known as South Carolina, they're the one that's affected," said linebacker Marvin Sapp, who's part of a campus ministry helping the victims' friends cope. "Therefore, I think we can play an important role and putting ourselves in the spirit and saying, 'We're here, we're playing for these people, we're playing for these families.'"

"We can probably bring some happiness to the town and everything, to the school," Cook agreed. "We just cheer everybody up, have a great game, do this for the people that we lost."

USC Athletics Director Eric Hyman said the idea for the sticker came from the football team and the athletic department began helping out. He recognized the impact sports could have on the healing process, agreeing with Sapp that the Gamecocks could provide a distraction, at least for a little while, to those affected by the fire.

"At Virginia Tech, it was more of a healing, a rally point, which is one of the pluses of college athletics," Hyman said. "The Gamecock nation can rally around an athletic event."

Which made the other news this week -- Blake Mitchell will start against the Razorbacks and have a chance to finish the season as starting quarterback -- sort of irrelevant.

"We'll do whatever we can," Spurrier said. "It's certainly not going to bring anybody back, but life goes on. It's very, very unfortunate."

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