Jake Bentley ran toward the end zone, whooping and hollering like he had just thrown another touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards.
Instead, Bentley was jumping up and down, pumping his fist and high-fiving a team of kids who had just scored a touchdown in a game of flag football at the Jerri and Steve Spurrier Indoor Practice Facility at the University of South Carolina.
Bentley and some of his Gamecock teammates had just helped make some dreams come true, which was the point of this special event hosted by the Calhoun Traumatic Brain Injury Foundation.
“The main thing we want to do is give hope, to give inspiration, because I’m willing to bet one of those little kids in that crowd will probably end up playing here at South Carolina,” said former Gamecock basketball star Carey Rich, who works with under-serviced kids throughout Columbia. “Even if that is not the case, just being able to experience this, it gives them a reason to dream and a reason to hope. It gives them a reason to be inspired.”
The Calhoun Traumatic Brain Injury Foundation hosted about 40 kids from the inner-city of Columbia Monday. The foundation is named after Cal Wrenn, the son of long-time South Carolina coach and recruiting coordinator Clyde Wrenn.
Cal suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2008 and spent weeks in the hospital before eventually recovering. Cal and his father started the foundation in 2014 to raise money for the trauma center at Prisma Health (formerly Palmetto Health) Richland. With an assist from NFL legend Brett Favre, the Wrenns have raised more than $200,000 for the trauma center and more than $80,000 for other charities.
With the help of Rich, the Recreation Superintendent for the City of Columbia and part of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s youth initiative, the foundation has been holding such events to help inner-city youth.
“We just thought this was a good way to give back to kids, to give them something they weren’t used to,” said Clyde Wrenn, who has spent more than 18 years with South Carolina Athletics and the university’s football program.
“I’m lucky enough to have a good family and we enjoy helping people even if we didn’t have a foundation,” Cal said. “Dad’s a guy who stops on the side of the road when somebody needs help. We just enjoy helping and this gives us a better way to do this.”
On Monday, the foundation took a group of kids to meet with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who showed them his department’s K9 team, and then to Riverbanks Zoo. Afterward, they visited the new Long Family Football Operations Center, where they met South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and several of his players.
Muschamp spoke to the group and delivered the same message he has for his players.
“You show me your friends, I’ll show you your future,” he said. “The people you hang around with and the choices you make with those people, that’s going to determine your future. Don’t let your circumstances define your life. Everybody has got a tough home life, everybody has a tough background. Make really good choices and decisions to help you with your future and hang around the right kind of people. That’s really important.”
Muschamp and his players also stressed the importance of doing well in school and getting a good education.
“School is really, really important,” Muschamp said. “If you want to continue on to play football in college or basketball or baseball, you have to do a great job academically. Hang around the right people, make good choices and understand how important education is to your future and the rest of your life. Don’t let your circumstances define who you are.”
“You have to be a good student in the classroom and you have to show as much respect to your teacher as you do your coach,” senior offensive lineman Donell Stanley said. “That goes with hanging around with the right people and doing the right things on and off the field. That’s what Coach Muschamp preaches to us all the time.
“Always encourage each other. Encourage your teammates. Always be a good team player, always keep your head up and always do the right thing.”
After touring the new $50 million football ops center — including playing games in the player’s lounge — the kids played flag football with Bentley, Stanley and fellow Gamecock stars Bryan Edwards, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnum, Hank Manos and Zacch Pickens.
“It’s special to give back to them, knowing I was that kid at one point who wanted to be out here playing with the college guys and just having fun,” Bentley said. “It’s really a cool experience to be out there with them.”
The group then moved to the South Carolina basketball facility at the Carolina Coliseum, where they participated in Frank Martin’s 8K in 8 Days community outreach program.
“It’s great to be able to talk with the little kids and talk about education,” sophomore forward Alanzo Frink said. “I came from the city too, so it’s [neat] connecting with them and showing them how it is over here.”
After doing drills with several Gamecock players, the group heard another valuable lesson from Martin.
“I was just like you guys. I had never been on a college campus until I was 19 years old, not because I wasn’t smart enough, not because I wasn’t good enough, I just never had anybody ever tell me,” Martin said. “No one in my family ever went to college. I never had anyone tell me, ‘Frank, go to that college campus and see what life is like.’ You guys have an opportunity right now because of a lot of folks who are giving of themselves to give you an idea and a dream to one day be on a college campus.”
Martin also emphasized the importance of education and the opportunities it can provide.
“If it wasn’t for my high school coach taking me to go see one of my high school teammates play at a university, I probably never would have started coaching and never gone to college,” he said. “Because of that, I dreamt, ‘you know what, I kinda want to be a part of that, too.’ Be thankful that you’ve got people who are willing to give you the opportunity to go walk around a college campus and get around college athletes. … These guys are just like you. They don’t come from anything different than what you guys live in. They allowed basketball to give them an opportunity to step foot on a college campus and now they are having the time of their lives and they are understanding how many opportunities are out there to find success.”
Providing those kinds of opportunities are what the foundation and the programs run by Rich and Martin are all about.
“I’m a product of inner-city Columbia,” said Rich, a two-time captain on Eddie Folgler’s 1994-96 teams. “I grew up in the same situation as many of these kids grew up in, so it’s a little bit more special for me. There is a passion I share with them.
“Basketball created a new path for me that otherwise had not been created in my neighborhood. Realizing where it has taken me, it’s really important to help create different pathways — and it doesn’t always have to be basketball or football — for kids that would otherwise not be able to enjoy this.”
Most of the kids who participated in the foundation event had never been to Riverbanks Zoo. Getting to visit the zoo, tour South Carolina’s football and basketball facilities and meet the Gamecock stars was an experience most of them might not have gotten if not for organization’s like the Wrenn’s foundation.
Seeing the smile on their faces was worth the effort.
“It’s a joy to see these kids smile,” Rich said. “Ninety-eight percent of them had never been to the zoo before and to see that smile and that amazement and that disbelief, that’s all gold. How do we create that wow moment? How do we create that life-long moment, that everlasting memory? And we’re doing that today.”