As with most University of South Carolina letter jackets, equipment manager Chris Matlock took care of the creative details. There was nothing unusual about the block "C" or garnet lining.
But when Wanda Briley walked into the school's Roundhouse athletic office building in December, the official presentation was anything but typical.
Briley, a 59-year-old native of Mount Pleasant, played basketball for the Gamecocks from 1970 to 1974. She went on to become the head basketball coach at Wake Forest, led High Point University to a Division II national championship and also coached at Winthrop. But because Briley's pre-Title IX participation as a player came before women's basketball was folded into NCAA status, she and her teammates are not included in official South Carolina basketball record books.
"I'm not at all bitter that it took so long," said Briley, who works as the academic dean for student assistance at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia. "I was never about individual awards. I'm just very happy to have my letter, and I appreciate my time at South Carolina. Hopefully, some other women will come forward."
Briley remains an avid Gamecock fan, particularly supporting women's basketball. At a game, she met Jack Wilson, director of stewardship in the South Carolina athletic department.
"We were chatting and came around to what Wanda had done as a coach and as a player and that she didn't have a letter," Wilson said. "I said, 'Gosh, Wanda, let's see if we can't get you squared away here.'"
Presto: an old-school new jacket.
"You wonder how many other women like Wanda are out there," Wilson said.
Loud Mighty Macs
Briley grew up on Mount Pleasant's Atlantic Street and graduated from now defunct Moultrie High School. At South Carolina, her basketball years coincided with some of the late Frank McGuire's nationally ranked Gamecock teams.
"I was friends with John Roche and a lot of the other players on the men's team," Briley said. "We weren't jealous of all the attention they got; we were big fans. It was so much fun."
The ultimate sign of respect: McGuire invited Briley to work at one of his clinics.
Her most memorable college game was against Immaculata University, a tiny Catholic school in Pennsylvania that became a pre-NCAA power: three straight national championships from 1972 to 1974.
A movie about the Immaculata program, "The Mighty Macs," came out last fall.
"It was something else," Briley said. "The nuns were at the game banging pots and pans. It was so loud. I had never seen anything like it."
Briley was named national small college coach of the year for guiding High Point to the 1978 national title. The run included two postseason victories over S.C. State, including 92-88 in the championship game.
"S.C. State was so talented and they made more field goals than us," Briley recalled. "But we made 50 of 52 free throws."
At Wake Forest, Briley's teams didn't win much. But she helped build the program -- and doubled as an assistant volleyball coach.
It's easy to understand how impressed a former Cardinal Newman principal was when Briley asked for a coaching job.
"I couldn't believe what she had accomplished," said Michael Bolchoz, now the principal at Bishop England on Daniel Island. "Wanda is a person of great integrity and she is a great example for all the kids she works with."
Briley says she is still coaching kids, it's just that her administrative duties are more about life skills than jump shots and free throws.
She is a regular at Colonial Life Arena, where Dawn Staley's Gamecocks have made strides.
"Women's basketball was just different when I played and coached," Briley said. "But it's so great to have an athletic director like Eric Hyman who believes in women's basketball and such a great coach in Dawn Staley. It's great to be a Gamecock."
And now Wanda Briley has the letter jacket to prove it.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter at @sapakoff.
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