Introduction of Dawn Staley at Columbia Urban League dinner

To introduce Dawn Staley, you need only to take a look at yesterday’s blazing headline on the front page of The State Newspaper. I’m sure you saw it. “No. 1 in the SEC – USC women’s basketball team picked by media members to win the SEC!”  

There is no question that it is Dawn Staley who brought our women’s basketball team to this point.  And I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Dawn’s story is already legendary – even though it’s still in full stride. 

Born in Philadelphia, as one of Clarence and Estelle Staley’s five children, Dawn grew up in an inner-city neighborhood, just like some that we have here in Columbia. For recreation, she spent her afterschool hours on the basketball court playing ball with the boys.  It didn’t take long for the other players to recognize her determination and skills and accept her as a teammate. She remembers this time as critical to her future success on women’s teams. 

Dawn went on to become a  two-time national player of the year at the University of Virginia, was a five time WNBA All-Star and won three Olympic gold medals as player for team USA, while also serving as an assistant coach on the gold medal team in 2008.  

Today, Dawn is in her seventh season as the head coach of the South Carolina women’s basketball team.  She has led the Gamecocks to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including the Sweet 16 twice in the last three years, while taking home the program’s first ever Southeastern Conference championship last season and posting a 29-5 overall record.  Dawn was also honored as the SEC Coach of the Year after last season. 

She has not only improved the program every year and turned it into a national contender; Dawn Staley has immersed herself in our communities.  Her service efforts are also legendary, including the creation of the Innersole Foundation which provides new sneakers to children who are homeless and/or in need.

In 2013, Dawn was asked by the WNBA to join former president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea on a Clinton Foundation visit to Africa. During the 10 day trip, Dawn attended a soccer match in Zambia where those attending could be tested for Malaria; visited a farm site in Malawi that was teaching the locals how to add protein to their diet; and in Tanzania saw how the foundation worked to bring banking services to the people.

Dawn has shared that, while on this trip, she learned how important it is that we appreciate all the small things in life that we usually take for granted.  This is the message that she shares with her team and with her university family. 

Dawn embodies the spirit we seek as Gamecocks – that if we work hard, if we have compassion, if we live a life modeled on service – we can all be champions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Coach Dawn Staley.