SEC Rivals Bonded by Historic Floods and Mutual Aid
University of South Carolina vs. Louisiana State University. October 10, 2015. USC expected to welcome the Tigers into their home football stadium until the weather had a different plan. Just a week after a major flood, the roads to South Carolina were inaccessible. LSU offered up their stadium along with the home team side, and billboards welcoming USC to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ten months later, the favor is being returned. Cooper McKim has the story.
"Boats going down 4-lane highways, pulling out people from cars and stopping on the side of the road to see if people need help... it almost mirrors what we saw here in October."
On August 12th, 2016, rain started falling on Baton Rouge "but it really broke into a new magnitude Saturday night, and then Sunday it's just been backwater ever since. Places that normally don't get any water are getting feet of water poured into their streets," says Zach Faircloth, LSU Student Body President. Days later, fifteen rivers reached record flood stages damaging over 40,000 homes. He adds many of his peers are comparing it to Katrina.
"The minute we heard that Baton Rouge and LSU were having problems, we jumped back into action," says Cory Alpert, USC student and President of U of SC Flood Relief, an organization started last October to organize volunteers. He put out calls on social media for student help, communicated with the Athletics Department and the administration, and soon there was a plan in place.
Gamecock Athletics would donate an empty semi-truck typically used for Football equipment. U of SC Flood Relief will put out calls for donations, and once the truck is filled, a driver will take to LSU for dispersal.
In October of 2015, LSU did more than host the Gamecocks. Charles Bloom, Executive Associate Athletics Director, says "their band learned the fight song. The billboards around Baton Rouge were welcoming us into town. We were the home team in Tiger stadium which is unbelievable to think about." The Tigers then donated the proceeds of the game -- over a million dollars -- to Gamecock's athletics department, not to mention the auction of the star player's, Leonard Fournette's, jersey for over $100,000 donated to South Carolina's flood relief.
"Given that they really did come to our aid in a fundamental way, there was no other option but to do the same thing now," says USC President Harris Pastides. He says it makes sense that there was such immediate coordination between the students, administration, community, and athletics department to help Baton Rouge.
Alpert, head of the student flood relief organization, organized three collection days where community members and students could drop off necessities to flood victims in Baton Rouge. USC Athletic's Bloom says, "I was thinking 'Aw gosh, I hope we can get people out to donate,' and to find out that we were 50% full after one day is just incredible." By the second collection day, U of SC Relief volunteers started filling up a second semi-truck. After both were sent down, USC even performed LSU's alma mater song.
Bloom says he's not pretending the two trucks will be enough to fix seven billion gallons of rain dropping on a state: "They'll need financial help, to rebuild hopes, maybe some infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt. It's a long-term fix just like here."
Nevertheless, Bloom, Alpert, Faircloth, and President Pastides all agree there's a now a lasting bond between the two SEC rivals. Bloom says "we can compete like cats and dogs, and go crazy on Saturdays, but during the week, we work together."
Alpert seconds that: "From here on out, they're two schools that share a lot more than an athletic rivalry. They're two schools that have gone through very similar situations and helped each other out."
Pastides is happy that they had the infrastructure in place to help Baton Rouge "but trust me, it would be a lot better to not have to jump into action anytime again soon." He says he would love to have some downtime.