Female Lettermen's Association Board Members Take Pride in Giving Back and TItle IX
Their days of wearing the garnet and black on the field or on the courts may be over, but a handful of former female South Carolina student-athletes aren’t done making a difference for the Gamecocks. Cindy Bradshaw (tennis, 1972-74), Ashley Bruner (basketball, 2009-2013), Rhody Williams Edwards (track and field, 1993-1997) Sisi Routh (softball, 1975), and Shannon (Williams) Orth (beach volleyball, 2016-2019) serve on the board of the University of South Carolina Association of Lettermen, a dues-paying membership organization for former student-athletes. Each has their own reason for wanting to be involved.
Shannon (Williams) Orth
“It’s great way to stay involved with all the teams and my university that I love,” said Routh, who serves as treasurer for the organization and worked in banking most of her life. “I graduated in ’77, but it was a couple of years later I got a letter asking me to join the Lettermen’s Association, so I did. In the mid-1990s, I was asked to be on the board, and then I was elected Treasurer after that. I’ve been Treasurer for around 20 years now. I love athletics.”
“We care a lot about the University and Athletics and its’s a great way to stay involved, and to be involved with the community,” said Orth, who earned a degree in risk management and insurance and works in property management in Columbia for a business she and her husband, former South Carolina football student-athlete Perry Orth, started. “I help out with the social media. The more that we try to connect former athletes, it’s a great way to keep the culture and the community alive. You come to the school for four years, and it’s always a part of you. We want to create a community that’s long-lasting, whether it’s creating events for people to come back to or recognizing geographical areas where there are tons of former lettermen, you try to create things there.”
“I think it’s a great way to keep the alumna involved,” said Bruner, who graduated with a degree in theater before playing professionally in Europe for seven years and is now coaching high school basketball. “We love our alma mater. And to know that we can reach back and help our current student-athletes is definitely a great feeling.”
“For the last 18 years, I’ve been a mom and a wife, so that’s been my identity,” said Edwards, who earned a degree in criminal justice and is a federal contractor and does background checks for security clearances. “I thought I should step out of my comfort zone a little bit. I lost a little bit of the connection to the University, so as my children started getting older, I’m trying to bridge that gap with Carolina and get back out there. I’m trying to expand myself.”
“When they initially contacted me about getting involved, I didn’t have time because of my career and family life,” said Bradshaw, who is now the president-elect. “I was still playing competitive tennis, and I was teaching and coaching. After I retired from teaching, I had more time on my hands. I became more active as the years progressed. It’s been awesome to go back to where you graduated from and be able to give my time and financial support. It’s very rewarding.”
As South Carolina Athletics celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, each is happy for the opportunities they’ve had and look forward to continued growth of women in sport at their alma mater and nationally.
“Laws are great, but they don’t really mean as much until the hearts and minds of people are changed.”
– Rhody Williams Edwards
“I was here when they passed Title IX, and it took a while for us to catch on,” Bradshaw said. “When I played tennis at Carolina, we had a physical education graduate assistant who was working on her master’s degree, who was our coach. I saw women’s sports go from that to fulltime coaches. It went from that to it being fully funded with scholarships and travel and everything else. You look at the women’s basketball team getting to play in the Carolina Coliseum for the first time in the 1980s. You look now and they’re full for all the games at Colonial Life Arena. I go to the Indoor Tennis Center now, and our stands are full there. Our fans are supporting the men and the women. We are growing every day. One thing that goes through all the decades for all the sports is the camaraderie, the integrity, and the desire to win in graceful manner.”
Cindy Bradshaw (right) and former Gamecock A’ja Wilson
“Title ix means the world to me and millions of girls like me,” Bruner said. “The fact that we needed Title IX is bogus because everyone should have the same opportunities without regulations. But my whole life trajectory would have been completely different if I didn’t have basketball to take me all over the world. I’m not sure what life would look like for me.”
“We still have a ways to go, but it’s gotten so much better,” said Edwards. “It means the world to me to see the South Carolina women’s teams having so much success. It means I stood on ladies’ shoulders, and they stood on ours and mine. It’s extraordinary. Laws are great, but they don’t really mean as much until the hearts and minds of people are changed. It’s amazing to talk to male athletes now, and they have such a recognition of the women’s sports and how great they are. The hearts and minds of people are changing now.”
“In my time playing, I never saw a time where I didn’t have any opportunities,” Orth said. “As a woman, I think it means a lot that not only can women play a sport in college, but sports are continuing to develop for women. I think I got here in the third year of beach volleyball being a collegiate sport. I feel grateful that sports continue to evolve and continue to give women opportunities play at the highest level possible.”
“I loved my four years there. I never felt less valued. All the trainers and coaches here give us the great opportunity to be successful. The University values the women’s sports and give us access to trainers and strength and conditioning coaches and tries to give us the best experience possible.”
“When I played, we didn’t play a 50-game schedule,” Routh said. “We played around 20 games and played mostly in-state teams. One of my best memories was getting to travel to Mississippi to play a tournament. It was a really good bonding time. We drove in two little vans. Not as luxurious as they have it now! One of my teammates, Nona Kerr, was one of the first female scholarship recipients.”
With the motto of “Athletes Helping Athletes,” the Association of Lettermen not only connects current and former Gamecocks through events and fundraisers, but also offers the opportunity for networking and passing along advice among all of those generations
Rhody Williams Edwards
“Not everyone is going to play professionally, but you can still be great in life,” Bruner said. “One day at a time. Some people don’t know exactly what they want to do or what they’re good at but trust your process. Greatness comes in the midst of hard work. Be the best you that you can be and watch how many doors open for you.”
“My commitment is to the student-athletes because when I graduated, we didn’t have that outreach that we have today,” Edwards said. “We didn’t have a lot of people telling us to come back and keeping us engaged. I think the University benefits when we keep in contact with the athletes. We need to let them know that Carolina still appreciates the commitment and sacrifice to the University, whenever it was. I want to bring back the student-athletes and keep them engaged.
“I want to be a mentor. When I graduated, I was a fish out of water. I didn’t know what to do when I was applying for jobs.”
“I love the University and sports and the opportunity I had to play,” said Routh, who graduated with a degree in early childhood education. “I’d like to be somewhat of mentor to them if they need someone with an older perspective. Our mission with the Lettermen’s Association is athletes helping athletes. We do what we can to help them out.”
“What makes me most proud is the acceptance of men to support us,” Bradshaw said. “If they didn’t support us, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Athletics Director Ray Tanner realizes the importance of female student-athletes. He sees how important it is. I’m proud of how Carolina has embraced it and are proud to do it. We are growing in our diversity, and that’s what is important to me. We are accepting the culture of all people.
“It unites us as one. It’s very much the ‘we’ spirit.”