FAM-ily Reunion: South Carolina celebrates third national championship with downtown Columbia parade

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

Good things come in threes. That has been the case for the history that South Carolina’s program has made throughout the Dawn Staley era. 

Shortly after this year’s rendition of Gamecocks brought a third national championship to Columbia, the team staged a victory rally at its home venue – Colonial Life Arena – upon returning from their triumph over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Arena. 

Then later in the week, the city of Columbia announced it would stage a parade down the city’s famed Main Street and concluding at the South Carolina State House in celebration of the 2023-24 Gamecocks. 

One can make a really great case that there were more people that showed up for the 2024 parade than was the case in 2022 – and that was a well-attended celebration in its own right. 

Unlike in 2022 when the weather was somewhat overcast, there was barely a cloud in the sky and temperatures were in the 80s. It was picture perfect weather to celebrate a team that concluded the season with an unblemished record. 

Given the day that the parade was announced – the day right before the WNBA Draft, it was a fair question as to if Kamilla Cardoso, who is projected to be a lottery pick, would show up. Cardoso would indeed show up to feel the love one more time from the South Carolina FAMs one more time before she steps into the professional ranks. 

Raven Johnson’s “Ravenge” tour was indeed complete. After being waved off in the 2023 Final Four by Clark, “Crockpot” became the “Caitlin Stopper” by virtue of a fierce defensive effort that kept the Hawkeyes star in check. 

If any moment from the parade is going to go viral, it was the float that was brought to Main Street by the Richland County Coroner’s Office. It featured tombstones of every team South Carolina defeated – including Iowa – in its road to bring a third national championship to the Palmetto State. 

Another highlight of Sunday’s festivities were the appearances of marching bands for two Columbia area high schools – Cardinal Newman School and Keenan High School. 

Why Cardinal Newman and Keenan? Cardinal Newman is the high school alma mater of Ashlyn Watkins and she led the Cardinals to several SCISA state championships during her illustrious tenure at Cardinal Newman. 

Keenan is the high school alma mater of MiLaysia Fulwiley – and she led the Raiders to several SCHSL state championships during her storied career at Keenan. Fulwiley is concluding a superb freshman season with the Gamecocks and Watkins is finishing a stellar sophomore campaign with South Carolina. 

Fulwiley and Johnson were also announced as invitees to Kelsey Plum’s Dawg Camp designed to help women’s ballers with their own eventual transitions to become professionals. 

As expected, the parade was also attended by a few political figures from the Palmetto State. These included Columbia mayor Daniel Rickenmann and congressman James Clyburn (D – South Carolina). 

Rickenmann declared the month April South Carolina Gamecocks national championship month. Clyburn gave a shoutout to Fulwiley and her family as he concluded his remarks. 

Te-Hina Paopao, who will be returning to the Gamecocks for the 2024-25 season also gave brief remarks before Dawn Staley spoke. 

In the words of Raven ‘Crockpot’ Johnson, it’s time for a repeat tour.

–Te-Hina Paopao

After we planned to be here last year, during this time, it wasn’t hard this time. It wasn’t. And it was a devastating loss to all of us. All of us that were a part of it. And I was hurt. Deeply hurt. Deeply. Deeply. Not to destroy my faith, but I did ask why. I did. And most of us that really understand, we need to know and we need to know what we need to know. But God sometimes says I can show you better than I can tell you.

–Dawn Staley

I felt like we had enough on paper to compete at a really high level. Whether that ends up in a national championship level or not, I didn’t know. But again, these players, these players actually – and I have to go to our theme of this year – these players loved up on each other – unconditionally created a bond that created a heightened level of competitiveness to say you can play us for a quarter, you can play for two quarters, you can play us for three quarters. But, by the time that fourth quarter comes around, we aren’t going to lose.

–Dawn Staley

The love that you pour into us as we drove down Main Street, it is uncommon. And I really, really, deeply appreciate you love, your unconditional love.

–Dawn Staley

With the story of this year’s Gamecocks having been complete, many women’s basketball fans are now looking ahead to the 2024-25 season. If anything was established, it was that the road to a national championship once again goes through Columbia, South Carolina. 

*chirp* *chirp* *chirp*

Wait…is that one of Staley’s little birdies on the verge of joining the nest? 

Joyce Edwards? THAT is what teams who face South Carolina next year have to deal with? Not to mention the Gamecocks returning almost everyone as part of their core? 

Looks like the city of Columbia needs to start planning another Main Street parade for around this same time next year….