Sometimes it takes legends to help bring about new legends in college athletics.
Just look at the Head Ball coach. Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy as a player and also coached a Heisman Trophy winner. He played in the NFL and has sent countless numbers of players on to the next level, including this past year’s No. 1 pick in Jadeveon Clowney.
Tommy Suggs is another one of those legends that has helped inspire greatness in others.
Suggs quarterbacked South Carolina to its only conference championship in 1969 and after his playing days were over (1968-70) he has since went on to become President and CEO of a large company in KeenanSuggs, while also somehow finding time to provide analysis of Gamecock football broadcasts for the past 40 years.
It makes sense then that when it was decided to have an endowed scholarship that it would bear Suggs’ iconic name.
John Harloe, a two-time South Carolina graduate and one of Suggs’ Sigma Nu fraternity brothers, had the idea for the endowed scholarship and he passed along his thoughts to fellow fraternity brother, Peter McCausland.
Together they both made the first large gifts ($75,000) for the project. They at roughly the same time enlisted the help of Susie of VanHuss who would serve as the chair of the endowment’s steering committee that also included The Honorable William Hubbard, Jimmy Addison and Suggs’ fellow Sigma Nu members Alden Sweatman and Stan Juk.
VanHuss was pleased to be asked to be part of the process.
“I was at the University foundations for nine years, so they were aware that I could do that, and I was also faculty rep for nine years and was very familiar with the athletic program,” VanHuss noted. “I looked at it when I agreed to do it as a ton of work, but it was fun. I agreed to do it for two reasons. One, obviously, a good friend of Tommy’s, neighbors in fact, and I think he really deserved it. But, more importantly, from my perspective on the athletic department, one of the things I observed over the years was that many of the other universities in the SEC and across the country had large endowment scholarship programs that had a huge impact on them.”
VanHuss mentioned SEC schools like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M as having large endowments and to her it was about “leveling the playing field” since the South Carolina athletic department was having to spend a great deal of its operating fund on paying scholarships for its student-athletes in all areas.
“What I hope, because of one, Tommy’s popularity and the fact that he is a Gamecock legend was that at least it would give us a chance to educate the public if you will, or to make the general group of Gamecock Club members aware of the importance of scholarships,” VanHuss elaborated. “The message we hoped to send was that it is critical to have a big endowment fund and use just the earnings to pay for scholarships for student-athletes. Donors were affecting not just this year’s recipient, but were making a gift in perpetuity to benefit future recipients.
VanHuss sees having the ability to use Suggs’ name and Marcus Lattimore’s name with the recently unveiled endowed scholarship in his name as giving the Gamecocks a recruiting advantage. If recruits know they have an opportunity to earn a scholarship named after a legendary athlete whom they like to emulate, it gets their attention.
“If you know that you have a scholarship named after a big legend and it’s going to give you some incentive and if they know ahead of time that we have scholarships that are named after people they like to emulate as student-athletes it’s something that they look forward to,” VanHuss commented. “It also gives you a little motivation when you give it for one year, the name of it, but every year there’ll be a Tommy Suggs scholarship, so it’s whoever earns it in the eye of the coaches.”
The whole process was not easy, but it was well worth it according to VanHuss as to date over $400,000 has been raised with more than 150 donors contributing.
“Fundraising is never easy,” VanHuss remarked. “It takes a minimum of $300,000 to endow an athletic scholarship, so we started out thinking we’ve got it halfway and most of our givers gave in about three or four big categories. We had the two large gifts, a $25,000 gift, something like four $10,000 dollar gifts and probably about 15 $5,000 gifts. And we had a group of $1,000 gifts and a lot of donors who called and said, ‘I can’t afford the big bucks, but we’d like to give something.’ We told them we welcomed any gift and if they wished they could continue giving over the years; it doesn’t have to stop now.”
Harloe is grateful that Suggs is the first of the endowed scholarships because he’s a ‘gentleman’s gentleman.’
“He represents himself, his family, the state, the University in just a five-star fashion. He’s been doing these things his entire life. So many people just graduate and go about their way and he’s never been like that. It would take an hour to list all the things Tommy has done (for the University). Tommy’s the kind of friend that once he’s your friend, he’s your friend for life and one you can count on. Pete and I were just happy to do something for somebody so deserving.”
To celebrate the Suggs endowed scholarship a black-tie event was held at The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 8, 2012. It “was truly quite an evening” according to VanHuss and to her it showed once again “the kinds of things we can do if we set out our minds to do them as Gamecocks.”
South Carolina did not utilize any scholarship dollars given to fund the event, raising all the money through different sponsors. They even kicked in the remaining $800 raised from the event towards the Suggs’ scholarship.
The whole experience has been a little surreal to Suggs, but he is thankful that it is benefitting the University he loves so much.
“First, it was a total surprise and I am honored that friends, colleagues, teammates fraternity brothers and all would do something like that,” Suggs stated. “It’s just something I never thought would happen. Secondly, I think it’s very important that we as a University athletics program move in a direction of establishing these endowed scholarships. Some of the universities around have done that and have been very successful with it, and I was, again, honored and pleased to be the first one and now we’ve got one for Marcus Lattimore and I hope we have many, many more. It’s a nice way for people to be involved with the University, give back and recognize someone, so I’m excited about that.”
Suggs thinks the importance of endowed scholarships for the University of South Carolina cannot be overstated.
“I think it’s very important,” Suggs said. “It’s clearly just another way a person that has interest in our University, and athletics particularly, and actually on the academic side as well to recognize someone and make a contribution back to the University. If you don’t want to make a contribution and have your name on the side of a building or a sidewalk or something, you can do the endowed scholarship, which is very, very welcomed by the athletics department and the University as a whole because it gets people to participate and give back and I think that’s very, very important. So, it’s very important going forward.”
Everyone involved in the formation of the scholarship is ecstatic that current Gamecock starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has been awarded the Suggs scholarship with Harloe articulating “he’s perfect. He’s the perfect fit.”
“I was so glad they picked Dylan because he’s not just a very good athlete, he’s probably is as good as an all-around student that you’ll ever get,” VanHuss relayed. “He’s a great person, great kid in every respect. I had a chance to get to know him fairly well as I’m on the Garnet cabinet and Dylan served an internship this year with Ray Tanner and, of course, he came to all our cabinet meetings and he is a tremendous representative of not just of athletics, but the University. He’s an ambassador. He and (Gamecock baseball legend) Michael Roth remind me a lot of each other in their attraction and appeal at every level.”
To donate to the Tommy Suggs Endowed Scholarship or learn about giving opportunities, please contact Jeff Crane in the athletics development office at (803) 777-7546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Story by Brian Hand/Submitted Photo**