A Trip To Clemson and A Great Show

I live in a state dominated by Gamecocks. No, not the rooster these birds are named after, but University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This is, in and of itself, sometimes irritating. Sometimes these fans can be overly obnoxious, but really aren’t all fans of sports teams that way from time to time? I’ve often found it interesting that in a state where we’re often last in a lot of important categories, that the state namesake university generally isn’t all that good in succeeding in the arena of sports.

Until this year when expectations were exceeded tremendously. The USC baseball team won the College World Series. The soccer team lost in the quarterfinals to Michigan (GO BLUE!) and the football squad won nine games and made their first ever trip to the SEC Championship game. At this time, we will refrain from discussing the results of that game…

I would like to also note that South Carolina is the only state where a woman can wear the word COCK on her shirt or shorts and it not be considered sexual harassment. Any other state and those little ladies go to jail. Just saying. Lots of crude jokes could be made here, but I will refrain. Just the other day I was in a store and I saw a rather round woman with the word between her ample breasts. Literally—right in the middle… This is not a vision I wished to have seen. Please have some common sense about where you wear your cocks, okay? Well, it looks like I didn’t refrain very well.

Just down the road a bit—about 130 miles or so—is another big college by the name of Clemson. There are fewer Clemson Tiger fans here in weird weathered South Carolina, but not by much. They wear their orange and purple with pride.

The two schools are significantly different from one another (and I won’t get into how here), but one thing is for certain: their fans hate the rival teams.

I am neither a Clemson nor a Gamecock fan so my allegiances go to neither school.


This past Monday (December 13th), a group of kids from my daughter’s school loaded up on a charter bus, along with around six teachers and they took a trip to Clemson. Picture this brief scene if you can:

It’s cold, the wind is kicking at around 15-20 miles an hour. The sun is still tucked away in his bed. Along the side of the school, which sits smack dab in the middle of a quiet neighborhood, is a charter bus, its lights on, engine running. Adults are carrying snacks and ice onto this bus while the 24 kids that make up the Arts Unlimited group, pile on, find seats and chitter chatter in excitement. The bus pulls away from the school, stops momentarily, giving the parents in the cars following a slight minute of worry. Did the bus break down? Did they forget something? Oh, wait, they just need to pick up the principal. Whew… and off they go…

This was the scene Monday as the trip to Clemson University began on a cold, blustery morning. Half a school year’s worth of anticipation had finally arrived and the trip had begun. My wife, Catherine, and I followed behind the bus, our 11 year-old Nissan Sentra doing a nice job of keeping up with the bus driver and the other vehicles in our mini convoy. Insert Convoy music here, if you like… If not, read on…

We thought it was cold in Gamecock Country. Upon arriving in Clemson, the cold air bit into our bones. My knees, ankles and back still hurt and its days later. We thawed out while sitting in the Brooks Center waiting for the 10:30 a.m. performance in front of 500 children to begin. The Arts Unlimited group appeared on stage, did their routine flawlessly. They smiled, they sang, they held up their hand-made signs and waved to the cheering crowd as they exited stage right. I believe we parents cheered the loudest.

Let me stop here for a second and give an explanation of things. The original plan was for Arts Unlimited to do the 10:30 performance and go on a tour of the campus and then head home, probably arriving back at the school around six or seven that night. Ah, but wait. The plan—as they always do—changed.

It turns out that they were actually opening for Natalie MacMaster, an award winning and Grammy nominated fiddle player from a little town called Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. If you know not where that is, then, as she told the children, have your teachers help you find it on the map. If you don’t have a teacher, well, look it up on the Internet—it’s a lot closer than you may think.

(For Natalie MacMaster’s website, go here: Natalie MacMaster )

After the morning performance, the campus tour began. Again, let me stop here for one second. Clemson, for lack of a better term, is a giant wind tunnel. It was around 28 degrees at about 11:30 that morning. With the wind gusts, it made it feel like oh, maybe, 2 degrees. So, to say it was cold is an understatement. I am very hot natured, so the summer and I sometimes are not good companions. However, I’m usually best buds with Ma Winter. So, if I say it was cold, then it was cold. Actually, it was fre… free…. freez… it was so cold my words froze up.

Now that you know how cold it was, you must also know that the tour of the campus was supposed to be by bus, which would have been terrific.


The walking tour lasted about an hour and a half to two hours. We were all peepsicles by the time we were finished. But, it was well worth the frozen digits and aching bones. The campus is beautiful, Tillman Hall is grand and Memorial Stadium (better known as Death Valley) is really nice. It’s not as big as I thought, but it is a very nice stadium. It sits at the bottom of a hill—a valley, if you will. We entered the stadium at the East end zone and walked across to where Howard’s Rock sits. There is significant history to Howard’s Rock, but really, all you need to know at the moment is that the Clemson Tiger football players rub it for good luck before they run onto the field. It’s been said that Frank Howard told the players something like, “If you’re going to give 110 percent, you can rub my rock. If you’re not, keep your filthy hands off of it.” (This is according to longtime sports information director, Bob Bradley).

Howard’s rock sits on a granite pedestal and is enclosed in what I am guessing is a Plexiglas box, held closed by a lock. Come a little closer. Yeah, a little more. Guess what happened? An official for Clemson University came to the field, unlocked the rock and let us… rub Howard’s Rock. (Oh, just get your mind out of the gutter) The significance of this was lost on the eight, nine and ten year olds, but for the adults, this was huge. This was tradition. Rubbing the rock has been mentioned as the most exciting thirty seconds in college football (at least to Clemson fans). I had seen this many times, having watched quite a few Clemson games in my lifetime and just thinking about touching the rock gave me goose bumps (that and the wind trying to knock me down the hill).

Another little side note: Later that day, as the kids were resting, the parents had two to three hours that they could pretty much do as they wanted. Catherine and I went out to eat and then drove around the campus to get some nighttime pictures. We drove toward the stadium, got turned around and came across the entrance to a cemetery. First off, Catherine and I love cemeteries—morbid, I know. Second, this cemetery is right outside the stadium, literally. There are entrances to the stadium no more than fifty yards from the cemetery. I kind of laughed when I saw this. I turned to Catherine and said, “I guess this is why they call it Death Valley.”

Who knew?

Back to the story.

From the stadium we made our way toward Tillman Hall and the Clemson University Memorial Carillon. The Carillon consist of 47 handcrafted bells and sits atop Tillman Hall. It is an elevator ride up to the fourth floor and then three flights of steps to the room where the controls to the Carillon are. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but considering only about 10 students a year since 1999 get to ring the bells, our group of West Columbians were treated to the opportunity to do just that: ring the Carillon bells. It was one of the highlights of the day, including when the principal rang out Mary Had A Little Lamb.

During lunch in one of the Clemson food courts one of the workers at the Papa John’s Pizza entertained several of the kids by acting like a mime behind the Plexiglas wall between him and the dining section. I was surprised to hear three of the six boys in the group sitting at a table practicing their songs and not paying attention to Mr. Clownaround. There’s dedication for you. The three boys sounded really good, even if they were trying to keep their voices down.

After lunch we made our way over to the Brooks Center and was given a tour of the building and it’s many rooms, including the dance studio, changing rooms, a computer lab and the costume room where shoes lined shelves along the walls. One of the boys chimed out, “Look at those Lady GaGa shoes.” You mean they actually noticed her shoes?

Our tour guides, Glenn and Sally, also took us to a room painted completely black. They call it The Black Box.

“What’s it for?” one student asked.

“It’s where we torture people,” Glenn said.

“Which people?”

“Fourth and fifth graders.”

I’ve never seen kids scatter so quickly…

Actually, the room is like an empty rehearsal room used so people can create a scene the way they need to before recreating it on stage.

The tour ended there for the parents, as the kids did a sound check and then went for a brief rest before supper. For the next three hours we were on our own in the blustery cold.

When it came time for the show, we arrived about an hour early, found another couple from our group and chatted for a while. The doors opened, and like a bunch of sheep to the slaughter, we hurried in, found our seats and sat… and sat… and sat… Understand something: It was almost eight o’clock and most of us had been up since around five that morning. We had hustled and bustled and not slowed down all day long. Here it was fifteen hours later and we finally had a chance to take a load off. A half an hour of sitting and waiting was not a good thing. Eyes started drooping, heads started nodding…

And then the show began. Natalie MacMaster and her band opened up with a slow piece that, at any other time would have been great, but with us tired parents in the balcony and the lights off, it was a recipe for sleep induction. Then the tempo picked up and we were wide awake for the rest of the show.

A quick note: Not only is Natalie MacMaster an awesome fiddle player, but she’s funny as well. At the time of the show she was pregnant and due in mid-January, less than five weeks away. She wore a glittery red shirt. At one point, she talked of her unborn child and how her belly looked like a disco ball. The band struck up a few disco chords as she slowly spun in a circle, letting the spotlight shimmer off her clothes, much like… well, a disco ball.

Intermission came and went and our kids eventually appeared on stage. They sang… and you could hear dead silence from the audience. From the opening chords of Silent Night to the last bit of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer the children sounded like an angelic choir. As they left the stage, the place erupted, again with us parents cheering the loudest. You would never have known these 24 kids didn’t actually practice with the band up to that point. They had the one sound check and that was all.

It was amazing.

I’ve attempted to put into words how great the day was, how terrific we were treated and I don’t think I did such a good job of it. As my daughter said on the way home that night, “It was flabbergasting.”

Yes, Chloe, flabbergasted may be as good a term as any. Though I don’t think the meaning is the same, I know what she meant.

To Sally and Glenn, our wonderful guides, thank you for the great day you provided us. Thank you for getting down on the level of these fourth and fifth graders; for being patient with them; for making them laugh at your jokes and keeping them completely interested in what you had to say and show them. And to Clemson University, you guys are awesome, in every way, shape and form. I think you guys may have garnered some new fans in many of these kids. I know you have in at least two parents…

Thank you for reading. For now, I’m AJ and I’m out.

Oh and Merry Christmas…

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