CLEMSON - She was nurtured in Upstate South Carolina and has spent nearly the past three decades close by in Clemson, but the Lowcountry will always be Linda White's second home.
After all, White would never have been able to pilot the positive change she has without embracing a sport she initially wasn't interested in coaching. She later would be named the finest high school coach in the country in that sport a decade later.
White has been entrenched at Clemson since 1986 in various roles as coach, administrator and community service coordinator, but her 14 years living in Mount Pleasant and coaching volleyball at Wando High School are too precious to forget. The day isn't long enough to list off all her favorite stories and standout pupils.
"Holy moly, you do not have time to hear all the memories I have," White said. "Whenever someone asks me things like that, I always tell them that the best memories I have are the young women I worked with. I still stay in touch with them; I hear from them quite frequently. They're still in my heart."
These days, White has morphed from Clemson volleyball coach (a consistent 136-81 mark from 1986-91, with at least 20 wins all six years) to associate athletic director (overseeing women's sports) and ultimately to a newly created position.
She's director of community relations, fostering the Solid Orange Squad and Be a T.I.G.E.R. programs that encourage Clemson student-athletes to give back.
Raised in Travelers Rest, a small town just north of Greenville, and earning her undergraduate degree at Winthrop, White married her husband, Roger, in 1970. A year later, the couple moved to the Charleston area as Roger attended Baptist College (now Charleston Southern) on a basketball scholarship.
Linda started out teaching physical education at Park Circle Elementary School, but she preferred working with high school students. A year before the creation of Wando, principal Luther Bergen offered White a P.E. position, with a caveat.
"Mr. Bergen told me that I could have the job if I would be willing to coach the volleyball team there," White said. "The whole time, I'm thinking, wow, I really don't want to coach volleyball. But I want a job, so that's what I did."
For 14 years. White would be named National Volleyball Coach of the Year in 1982, along the way adding basketball coaching to her duties, helping to organize the South Carolina Coaches Association for Women's Sports and institute North-South All-Star girls' events in the state.
Agent of change
It's less about the victories on the court White cherishes and more about the change. Change in girls' and women's sports she began as a high school coach in Mount Pleasant and continued at the college ranks in Clemson.
"When I was coming along, we played in college without any money whatsoever, whereas guys had full scholarships," White said. "That was the starting point. Since that time, I've seen so many opportunities."
When White took over Clemson volleyball in 1986, she was the athletic department's only woman who was not an administrative assistant. Today, Clemson employs four female administrators and four head coaches alone, another reason why in 2003, White was bestowed South Carolina's Pathfinder Award for contributions for athletics.
"Oh, it's awesome. We helped add women's soccer, rowing, added a women's trainer, women's coaches," White said. "I guess those opportunities are the biggest."
In 2005, White stepped down from her administrative post, but she wasn't through working with students. She kept feeling the pull to help; in part because 10 years prior, Roger and Linda lost their daughter, Lucia, in a car accident.
"Athletics have helped me hold it together," White said. "I wanted the athletes to understand how much they mean to each other and to learn about giving."
So then-athletic director Terry Don Phillips gave the opportunity-giver a unique opportunity.
"When I asked him if I could run a program," White said, "he gave me free reign and basically let me write my job description, which in this day and time sometimes unheard of.
"I actually have adopted the teaching of character as part of the core curriculum. So maybe there's a way that we could give teachers and school personnel a way to teach character in their schools."
That's the "Be A T.I.G.E.R.!" initiative, which places current Tigers in the classrooms of elementary and middle schools as role models. The program has expanded with field days, reading programs and email buddy setups.
The name came from former Clemson football player Michael Wade, who told his local newspaper when he chose to attend the school he always wanted to "be a Tiger." The connection: Wade's father, Mike, was on Clemson's 1981 national championship team, and his mom, Elizabeth, played for Clemson volleyball. In high school, Elizabeth took part in the all-star volleyball event coached and created by White.
That's why White's high school volleyball career (even if sparked by circumstance) won't leave her mind. And neither will Mount Pleasant, which Linda and Roger visit every spring for the Cooper River Bridge Run. Although plans are still young, they've considered owning property in the Lowcountry.
"We come back for vacations and stay in touch with a lot of the people down there who were so special," White said. "I love it."