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District Students Cheer USC Aiken Pacers, Hear Positive Message on ‘Education Day’

Gloverville Elementary School teacher Jacque Kuney and her fifth-grade students were leaving the USC Aiken Convocation Center after an Education Day visit filled with the excitement of college basketball and a pair of powerful messages on the importance of education, when she took the opportunity to stop for a moment to say two very important words – THANK YOU!

“Thank you so much, this was amazing,” Kuney, a USC Aiken graduate, told Pacers Athletic Director Randy Warrick, who organized and planned the event in coordination with the Aiken County Public School District. “For our students to be able to come visit a college campus like this, have some fun, and hear about the importance of education, it was just fantastic.”

A group of approximately 1,400 fifth-graders from across the District filled the sports arena for the school’s Wednesday morning basketball double-header with Georgia College. The Pacers came from behind to win the women’s game 72-61, while the men fell in a 74-67 final.

Warrick, who credited the visiting Bobcats for sparking the idea for Education Day after the Pacers played the Milledgeville, Georgia, school a year ago for a similarly themed event, said having the District’s students on campus proved to be a winning collaboration, one he would definitely like to see continue in the future.      

“The excitement in the building was evident, and I thought the event went really well. The fifth-graders were loud and it’s always good to have a great home crowd. Hopefully, this will be the first of many more Education Days to come,” Warrick stated.

“A lot of the students who attended today had likely never been on a college campus before or attended a college basketball game. I think it was a great experience for the students and for USC Aiken. Many of these students will most certainly attend USC Aiken and there may have even been a future Pacer basketball player or cheerleader in the group,” Warrick continued.

Each student received a special game program complete with team rosters, hoops-themed games and a “common ground” feature showing things that the fifth-graders might share with the USC Aiken players, like playing an instrument or having lots of brothers and sisters. Halftime entertainment was provided by Robyn Slain, who is one of three women who are able to spin 10 basketballs simultaneously.     

Students also heard positive messages on the importance of education from City of Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon during halftime of the women’s game and Pacers’ senior guard Carly Gilreath during halftime of the men’s game. Gilreath was one of the most popular players, especially for students from Byrd Elementary school, where she currently serves as a teacher’s aide. Gilreath will be stepping to the front of the classroom soon to complete her student teaching, and not-surprisingly, many of the signs in the crowd featured her jersey number 24.

Pacer guard Melyck Taouil, of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, was one of many USC Aiken student athletes, coaches, cheerleaders and managers who took the time to speak with the elementary students on Education Day and even sign a few autographs. Students were also able to meet the USC Aiken mascot (named Ace).  

“It was intense out there, and really had that college feel. It was loud, and the students definitely made a difference because they really brought the excitement,” Taouil commented after her team’s victory. “Their energy, especially for a 10:30 (a.m.) really helped. We loved it.”

Greendale Elementary School fifth-grade teacher CaraLynn Williams watched her overjoyed students as they posed for a group photo and mingled with the USC Aiken cheerleaders.

“This was a great event and the students loved it,” Williams said. “Not only was it great because of the game of basketball, but it was a college game and most of them are not used to seeing college players play. The boys were really excited to see the men dunk, and the girls really wanted to see the dancers and cheerleaders. We definitely want to come back next year.”

Greendale student Jaina Key left with a very special memento.

“I got autographs from all the cheerleaders!”