By Sam Burnham, Curator
I'm pretty vocal about my love of Jacksonville State. A place where I spent slightly over 4 years of my life remains one of my most special places in the world, even after two decades since last sleeping there. The memories remain thick and any sour ones have given way to the good times. Going back for a game, or any other reason, is a source of joy.
Seeing the large trees and the old brick buildings lets me know that I'm back home. Jacksonville is not home in the way that many people often think. But as is mentioned here so often, an attachment to place can be strong. And that place taught me more than just history, political science, and geography, although I learned plenty of that. It didn't just teach me about confidence, teamwork, and competition, although those were common lessons at Burgess-Snow. No, the lessons were holistic. Jacksonville was where I learned about life. And it taught me that lesson well.
Amidst the anguish I have felt is seeing the pictures of destruction has been a peace. The peace in that time is from the realization that Jax State is not just buildings and trees. Most of "my" buildings seem to have survived with little, if any, damage. But seeing Stone Center and Martin Hall as minimally damaged wasn't the peace. Seeing the Houston Cole Library, 12 stories of educational splendor that watches over the campus like one part Statue of Liberty and one part eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, still vigilant and proud, was nice. But even if it was toppled, that wouldn't destroy all hope.
The peace because Jax State, the Gem of the Hills, is a beautiful place and the history of the foliage and architecture is adds to the charm but that's not what makes the place great. Stone Center was special to me because of Dr. Hardy Jackson, Dr. Stephen Whitton, and Janet Smart. Martin Hall was special because of Dr. Howard Johnson, Dr. James Allen (Ol' Jimmy), and Dr. Jerry Smith. And those are just some of my professors. That's not even getting into all the great friends I made there, many of whom I am glad to still be in touch with. Jax State is great because of the people and the spirit of those people.
Many of the people who made JSU great when I was there are gone. Some of them have even passed from this life. But others have come in. And seeing how old traditions have grown and morphed to further unite the school, I can attest that the new people are just as good as the old ones. But the school is built stronger by the new and the old together. Just as the post game singing of I'll Fly Away has grown to include the football team, cheerleaders, and even Cocky has added to the spirit of the school, research I participated in through the geography department contributed to better tornado warnings. That led to the fact that no one died Monday night. The tornadoes in the 1990's didn't hit campus but the school studied them and learned from them and the region is safer because of that. And 20 years from now, we'll be even better off because of research that will be done on these tornadoes.
To paraphrase Dr. John Beehler's statement this afternoon, Gamecocks are tenacious. We get back up. We don't quit. He's right. I've been there. I've seen it. I've done it. And sometimes a knockdown makes us stronger when we get up. I'll never forget the 1994 game in the mud at Northeast Louisiana. The ball was already in the air when Tracy Pilot slipped and fell flat on his butt. Mud and water flew up from the impact. It was late in the game and it was fourth down. We had to have a touchdown. That was it. But it wasn't it. I'm not sure if he fell because he realized he had to or it we were just lucky. The ball landed in his lap. He caught it. The drive was extended and would lead to a game winning touchdown. We were huge underdogs on the road. We were still in transition from Division II to Division 1-AA (now FCS). They were division 1-A (now FBS). We had read going in that someone had us as 45 point underdogs. And we would have lost...if he hadn't fallen down.
Jax State will get back up. It is just what we do. Go Gamecocks!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire