Lowcountry athletes ‘proud’ of reaction

Former Goose Creek and South Carolina star Aleighsa Welch says she’s “so proud of my home” in the wake of the Charleston shootings. (File photo)

Aleighsa Welch is in Columbia this summer, working at Dawn Staley’s basketball camps and trying to start up some camps of her own.

But the former Goose Creek High School star’s heart is in the Lowcountry, in the cities she considers her hometowns — Goose Creek and Charleston. Like many in Goose Creek, she is mourning the loss of Gators girls’ track coach Sharonda Singleton, one of nine killed in Wednesday night’s shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

“There will be outrage, there will be hurt and pain,” said Welch, who has finished her decorated basketball career at South Carolina under coach Staley. “But the way it has brought us together, I couldn’t be more proud.

“Not every time that tragedy happens with race involved is it peaceful,” she said. “But to see people in Charleston come together and hold vigils and pray, I’m so proud of my home and to say this is where I’m from, this is my home.”

Many athletes from the state and nation have responded to the shootings, sending prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. But Welch has a special connection — she knew Singleton and went to school with her son, Charleston Southern baseball player Chris Singleton.

“Coach Singleton was somebody who always, always wanted to make an impact on people’s lives, no matter the person,” Welch said. “And she had a way to do that. She was a strong woman of faith, and she knew her purpose in this world was to help people. They gravitated her because of that.”

Welch watched news unfold on Wednesday night in “pure, true disbelief.”

“We in Charleston, we see stuff like that on the news — the shooting at the theater in Colorado, the Sandy Hook shooting,” she said. “We see tragedy, but it doesn’t resonate as much until it hits you right in your heart, in a place you call home.”

Fort Dorchester High School graduate Byron Maxwell told the Sporting News “that could have been my family” in the Charleston shooting.

“That’s my family, that’s my people,” said Maxwell, now a member of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. “I grew up in the AME church. It could’ve easily happened to someone I know.”

Maxwell had already planned a “Bowling with the Stars” event for June 27 in Charleston, to raise money for back-to-school shopping for kids. Now, some of the money raised will also go to families of the victims.

“We have to spread love,” he said. “As black people, start loving each other. I’m not talking about a movement or black power. I’m talking about just treating everybody like you want to be treated, and respecting each other.”

Maxwell’s fellow Fort Dorchester grad, Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals, said he texted his family Wednesday night to make sure they were all right.

“It’s crazy for it to happen anywhere, let alone in my hometown,” Dunlap told Cincinnati.com. “I still can’t believe somebody would do that, let alone go into a church and do that.”