Sept. 28, 2016
Parents of student-athletes have a special bond. Of course it’s fun to hear the cheers. It can also be tough, and parents can feel like a freshman who is lost or confused. Parents of South Carolina football student-athletes like to stick together thanks to Gamecock Football Families United (GFFU), which connects the families of student-athletes on game day and also provides valuable information to them throughout the year.
“Gamecock Football Families United is a good way to help the new families feel involved and know what’s going on,” said Darnisha Allen-Jackson, who is the mother of junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and is part of the leadership to help keep the other families informed. “When we first came here, the parents just took us in. Now I want to help out like other people helped me.”
“It’s not easy to be a mom of a football player,” said Deborah Holloman, mother of junior linebacker T.J. Holloman (pictured above right). “We’re nervous from kick-off until the last tick on the clock. I enjoy this group. We talk a lot, but we don’t always talk about football. It’s a wonderful experience.”
“It’s awesome,” said Cathy Hurst, (pictured above, far left) mother of sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst. “Last year we were new and didn’t know what to do. There were lots of great emails that gave us really good information. It’s just an awesome group to be a part of.”
Several years ago, Jerri Spurrier, wife of former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, and Senior Associate Athletics Director Chris Rogers started the GFFU for families of the players so they could share time together before and after games at locations inside Williams-Brice Stadium. This social atmosphere evolved into something greater as it provided compliance personnel and other administrators a forum to speak to the parents collectively about issues that may affect their children and also pass along general knowledge parents need to know about eligibility and compliance issues.
We follow the rules, and we teach our children to follow rules. If we know it’s a rule, we’re going to follow it.Deborah Holloman, mother of T.J. Holloman
“A lot of what we do is to try to be a resource for the student-athletes, parents, and coaches here,” said Chance Miller, associate athletics director for compliance services. “We also try to provide education to our student-athletes, but they have so much going on with academics, practice, community service and everything else, so we need to reinforce some of the messaging. Doing that through their parents is helpful. It also provides a point of contact for the parents, and it helps the coaching staff in creating a family environment with the team.”
“Every time we come in here, they give us some insight into what’s going on here or at other schools,” Holloman said. “They keep us on track with information about so many things. The NCAA rules can be so strict, and we don’t know all of them, but they provide us with everything we need to know. We follow the rules, and we teach our children to follow rules. If we know it’s a rule, we’re going to follow it.”
In addition to NCAA rules, the parents also receive timely information about topics such as contact with agents as well the benefits of a redshirt year to help young student-athletes better acclimate into the program.
“Every week we receive an email of information of what is expected of the boys so there is no doubt on what is to be accomplished,” Hurst said. “They do an awesome job for us.”
More than 160 family members of the student-athletes participate on a regular basis. In addition to the education the families are receiving, they are also gaining great relationships with the other families. The families of older players welcome in the newcomers each year and help pass on what they have learned.
“I didn’t know where to go to get tickets, and I didn’t know about Gamecock Walk or what time to meet,” Allen-Jackson recalled. “I’m not a South Carolinian, so I knew nothing about a lot of the traditions. It was always good to get an email in the middle of the week to let us know where to meet at the visiting stadiums. Any questions I had about anything for non-football things, it was these moms that took us in. I like to share the knowledge that I’ve gained over the previous two years with other parents. I just keep my phone charged, and I keep texting away to answer any questions.”
“When we see somebody walking around like they are lost, we go up and help them out,” said Brad Gooden, who is T.J. Holloman’s stepfather. “We’ve seen that look before.”
While good times are had among the families on game days, Miller also enjoys hearing from them throughout the week as well.
“They call all the time,” Miller said. “We get calls from parents and family members as someone in the community wants to do something for them or their sons, and the first message to them is to call us. It helps us to deal with stuff on the front-end, before it happens, rather than on the back-end when we have no control over it. I think the coaches also see the importance of creating a family atmosphere.”
This family atmosphere has spilled over to formal groups for other sports as well, as parents of men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes have been doing something similar in the last couple of years.