Feb. 28, 2017
Tacita Bass Sumter lost her 2002 national championship team ring. While she wants it back, the former South Carolina track and field All-American proudly owns memories that cannot be taken away of that team accomplishment in addition to her two SEC titles and three individual NCAA championships.
“Someone stole the ring a long time ago, but I still remember the moment of winning,” Sumter said. “Memories are not things, so I’ll always remember the moment when we won. I’m able to tell that story over and over again.”
She’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that when she comes back to watch the SEC Outdoor Championships hosted by South Carolina May 11-13 at the brand new Sheila and Morris Cregger Track facility.
“I’ve taken a few sneak peaks, and I drive by there often,” Sumter said. “I’m excited that the SEC Championships will be here, and we’ll be able to have everyone come home, so to speak.”
Originally from Mobile, Ala., Sumter was attracted to South Carolina after seeing the large number of other outstanding track and field athletes who were committed to competing for the Gamecocks.
“I knew other people who were coming to South Carolina, such as Demetria Davis, the Barber twins (Lisa and Miki), the Lewis twins (Mechelle and Mikisha), and Char Foster,” Sumter said. “I wanted to be surrounded by other people who were great, and who wanted to do the same things I wanted to do. To be recruited by South Carolina was a big deal to me because I knew the caliber of athletes that were going there.”
Sumter certainly showed her greatness by becoming the 2001 SEC Champion in the Outdoor 400 meter hurdles, and then won the SEC Outdoor Heptathlon title in 2002.
“That 2001 meet was wild,” Sumter recalled. “I had to do the heptathlon first. As soon as I was done with the 800 meter race, which was the last event in the heptathlon, I was taken over to take an ice bath because the preliminaries for the 400 meter hurdles was coming up in about an hour. Coach D (assistant coach Delethea Quarles) and Coach (Curtis) Frye did a great job of getting me ready mentally and making me believe I could double in those two events.”
In 2002, she helped the South Carolina win its first ever NCAA Team Championship when the Gamecocks won the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field title in Baton Rouge, La., by running a strong leg in the 4 x 400 meters.
“Winning the national championship was the most unbelievable and crazy moment,” Sumter said. “To be able to contribute to the overall team goal of winning was unbelievable.”
The competitiveness, the organization, and the time management that you learn in athletics directly translate to the workplace and are still very relevant.Tacita Bass Sumter
Sumter said one of the biggest keys to their success was preparation provided by head coach Curtis Frye, and assistant coaches Delethea Quarles and Kevin Brown.
“Their mental prep for us getting ready for the meet and then actually getting there was a big part of it,” Sumter said. “My first event was the heptathlon. So over a two-day period, there were many ups and downs with my performances in each event. At one point, Coach D and Coach Brown pulled me aside and just said ‘hey, there’s a championship on the line here, and we need you to help us achieve it.’ That was a defining moment.”
Sumter would take third place in the heptathlon, and then had to prepare for the 4 x 400 meters.
“I had no idea I was going to be in the 4×4,” Sumter laughed. “It turned out that the 4 x 400 was the event we had to have in order to win the championship. When Coach Frye told us who was going to be on the 4 x 400, I wanted to pass out. I think I ran the third leg, and I had never been that scared, excited and anxious in my entire life. I just believed and depended on my teammates and knew that if I did my part, this could happen.”
When Lashinda Demus successfully anchored the final leg, and the Gamecocks had won, the four runners were ushered to the podium to earn the award for winning the event.
“It was surreal,” Sumter said. “It was all happening in slow motion.”
After graduating in 2003 with a degree in biology, she competed professionally over the next five years and represented the United States in several international meets.
“Being able to make it to the Olympic Trials and the U.S. Track and Field Championships was big,” Sumter recalled. “Being able to travel the world shaped my outlook on certain things, and it helped me to be more open-minded with what is going on around the world.”
Currently living in Columbia, Sumter works at her alma mater in the Center for Child and Family Studies after spending several years at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“I’m a child welfare trainer,” Sumter said. “That is the simplest way to put it. I really like the fact that it combines two things that I am passionate about. One is training and development. The other piece is the Gamecock experience. The main thing that drew me to it is that somewhere down the line I realized I had the ability to help people to get the tools that they needed. That transferred from being in athletics.”
As she looks back, she is thankful to her coaches for helping her reach her potential, which is what she wants to do now for others.
“Coach D figured out how to get me to compete to what was my best potential,” Sumter said. “She always knew what to say and at what moment to say it.”
Sumter has a message for current student-athletes as they transition from competition to the workforce outside of athletics.
“The competitiveness, the organization, and the time management that you learn in athletics directly translate to the workplace and are still very relevant,” Sumter said. “You need to use those skills you learned as a student-athlete for your post-college career.”
Tacita and her husband, William, currently enjoy trying to introduce the world of track and field to their six year old daughter, Hailey.