Tag Archives: Fighting Gamecocks

How the University of South Carolina created their sports mascot name “Gamecocks”

I wanted to write a light blog, but one still steeped in history. The mascot for the University of South Carolina is a gamecock (fighting rooster) named “Cocky.”  When asked about the mascot, I myself have used the standard line, “An ass-kicking chicken.” Since 1903, the University has used the name “Gamecock” for all its sports teams. However, the name did not come from the chicken, the gamecock, but from Brigadier General Thomas Sumter.


Who was Thomas Sumter? He was an American Revolutionary war hero—perhaps the third greatest Revolutionary War leader, behind only George Washington and Nathaniel Greene. A British General fighting in the southern colonies is said to have told his troops that Sumter fought like a gamecock, thus he was ordained with the nickname “The Carolina Gamecock.”


Thomas Sumter was born in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1734. As legend goes, Sumter was “small” in stature but “big” in fight. He enlisted in the Virginia militia, rising to the rank of officer during the French-Indian War. After that war, Sumter was selected to go out among the Cherokee people to mend the relationship with the colonists. Later, Sumter was selected to travel to London, along with several Cherokee, including their leader Ostenaco, to meet British King George III.

Prior to the American Revolution, Sumter fell into financial trouble from his travel expenses to improve relations with the Cherokee. When Virginia would not forgive his debt, he was imprisoned. A friend came to Staunton, where Sumter was incarcerated, and gave him ten guineas and a tomahawk to buy his way out of debtors prison in 1766.

Sumter moved from Virginia to Stateburg, South Carolina, just to the west of the town which would later be given his namesake, Sumter. In 1767, he married Mary Jameson. They became planters, but soon Sumter went back to his roots and raised a local militia. By February 1776,  the divide between the Colonies and the British Empire had grown, and Sumter was elected lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line. Soon, he became a colonel. He subsequently was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until the end of the war. Some of his early Revolutionary War battle successes included preventing the invasion of Georgia.

Sumter was part of the defense of Charleston, South Carolina, at the Battle of Sullivan Island. However, when the British conquered Charleston in 1780, Sumter escaped to North Carolina.

After British Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s raiders burned his house, Sumter organized another local militia to fight the British. Sumter had victories over the British at Catawaba and Hanging Rock (in Lancaster County). Sumter confronted and defeated Tarleton at the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm. Tarleton commented to his superiors that Sumter “fought like a gamecock.” Perhaps his greatest military achievement is fighting Cornwallis to the point of the British abandoning the Carolinas and moving their army into Virginia. Cornwallis described him as his “greatest plague.”

After the Revolutionary War, Sumter went into politics, serving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

If some of this story sounds familiar, part of Sumter’s history (along with that of several other South Carolinians) was used by Mel Gibson to define his persona in the movie, “The Patriot.

When the fort at Charleston, South Carolina, was constructed in 1829, it was named after Sumter. The city of Sumter is sometimes referred to as “The Gamecock City,” but it is the University of South Carolina that has made his namesake famous.

Sumter passed away at the age of 97 on June 1, 1832, and was buried near his home.

A True Fighting Gamecock at the University of South Carolina

I don’t personally know Kyle Carpenter, but I imagine he did what most normal college young men did this past semester at the University of South Carolina. He probably worked hard to be the good student that he is, but I’m guessing he also played video games, watched sports on TV, discussed classes and what he might do this weekend with friends. He might even be watching our Gamecock baseball team or be thinking about next year’s football and basketball teams.

Kyle Carpenter continuously tries to pass himself off as just a regular student at the University of South Carolina. But last week, Kyle Carpenter visited the White House–not on a tour, but as an invited guest of President Barack Obama. You see, Kyle Carpenter really isn’t your average USC student. He is the retired Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter, and he was at the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Obama. Kyle is the eighth living recipient and the second Marine recipient of this great honor since the start of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Why did President Obama honor this twenty-four-year-old man? Kyle Carpenter’s story is anything but ordinary. On November 21, 2010, Kyle and his best friend Lance Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio stood guard on a rooftop in the Marjah District of the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, taking fire from the Taliban, when a grenade landed on the roof. What this young Marine did in the next few seconds changed the lives of both his best friend and him.

He dove toward the grenade.Silhouette fedora

His action saves his best friend’s life, and miraculously, Kyle survived the blast.

Kyle remained conscious for a few seconds after the blast, feeling his life’s blood pour out of him. According to his personal accounts, in those second that Kyle remained conscience, he asked if his best friend Nicholas Eufrazio survived, and he accepted Christ in his life so that he could go to Heaven. Plus he was upset, thinking about his family he wouldn’t see, as he was certain he was going to die there on the rooftop in Afghanistan?

In the critical minutes that passed, Carpenter went through three revivals of flat-line cardiac arrest. By the grace of God, the medics, paramedics and doctors didn’t give up on Kyle, and Kyle’s intestinal fortitude refused to give up. The next thing this heroic young man remembers is waking up at Walter Reed Army Hospital, following a coma that lasted more than five weeks.

Over the next two years, Marine Corporal William “Kyle” Carpenter underwent almost forty surgeries to repair the loss of a right eye, a blown right ear drum, a fractured nose, destroyed lower jaw and cheek bones, plus a right arm broken into more than thirty pieces. And those weren’t the worst injuries–he also had shrapnel in his brain. During two years of recovery, this native of Mississippi and resident of Gilbert, South Carolina strived to return to normal.

In a recent interview with a local TV station, he talked about going back to Afghanistan to the very rooftop where the horrific incident occurred, for nothing else but closure on that fateful moment—that moment when he did what he claims all Marines would proudly do: dive on a grenade to protect his fellow Marines.

Kyle’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous, and he is now doing things that none of his doctors would have predicted. Kyle is even contemplating running the Marine Corp Marathon in the future.