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Sapakoff: The perfect fit to lead the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame

By Gene Sapakoff, Charleston Post and Courier (@Sapakoff)

Story and picture courtesy of the Charleston Post and Courier

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 9, 2022) – Some people get bored in retirement. Andy Solomon established a board.

A friend asked if he was crazy to accept the role of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame executive director at a busy time when the organization is lobbying for a permanent museum site.

“Of course,” replied Solomon, 66. “But life’s too short. Let’s have fun.”

He’s the perfect person to take over for Ephraim Ulmer, who stepped down as SCAHOF executive director after 25 years. No one in South Carolina is more connected to more South Carolina sports than Solomon.

He was the first sports information director at College of Charleston, his alma mater, the first SID at Winthrop and worked at Charleston Southern and Limestone.

That was before Solomon worked for 27 years at The Citadel while spending a lot of time at South Carolina and Clemson as an NCAA Baseball Tournament site representative.

Solomon’s gregarious networking is perhaps best summed up in his role in growing a breakfast club

composed mostly of former coaches. Participants in the group originally formed by Lowcountry insurance agent Tom McQueeny vary, but those who attend or have dropped by at Page’s Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant include Les Robinson, Ralph Friedgen, Al Skinner, Roy Williams, Bobby Johnson, Bobby Cremins, Teddy Valentine and Fisher DeBerry.

No wonder Solomon earned the nickname “The Facilitator.”

In his new gig, The Facilitator is looking for a facility.

First SCHAOF goal: get the honoree train back on schedule after the 2021 ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19. The seven-member Class of 2020 includes Todd Ellis, C.J. Spiller, Gaylord Perry, Dan Driessen, Roberta Williams, Peter Boulware and Ed Lynch and will be inducted at the 60th annual SCAHOF banquet on May 23 at the Columbia Convention Center along with a four-member Class of 2022 to be named Jan. 20.

Second goal: a museum.

SCAHOF museum push

“We have two options,” Solomon said. “Do it ourselves or get the state legislature to help us.”

Solomon is leaning legislature, hoping there is COVID-19 money available to help a non-profit organization raise approximately $2 million and do something good for the Palmetto State.

A big check from a corporate sponsor, however, is welcome.

The state athletic halls of fame in North Carolina (Raleigh), Georgia (Macon) and Virginia (Virginia Beach) have museum sites. Solomon thinks South Carolina sports enthusiasts deserve one, too.

“It’s a preservation of history,” said Solomon, a Charleston native. “It’s a preservation of athletic history and it’s a preservation of heroes and legends. In South Carolina, we take our sports pretty seriously and we need a place to showcase that history.”

The strength of the SCAHOF has always been a sweet unison of achievement celebration (Solomon hopes to occasionally hold the annual ceremony away from its Columbia base with stops in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Rock Hill).

The fun of sports glory ranges from football to horse racing (though no horses have been inducted).

From baseball to NASCAR (no cars either).

Typically, Solomon said, over 200 nominees must be whittled down to class of inductees every given year.

SCAHOF flaws have included athletes and other contributors slipping through the cracks. The classic case is someone from a small town in South Carolina or somewhere outside Columbia (home of most board members) who didn’t play in college in the state.

Art Shell, one of South Carolina’s two or three most accomplished athletes and also an NFL head coach, was selected for Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement before he was honored by the SCHOF. Shell grew up in North Charleston and went to Maryland State.

Darius Rucker, Bill Murray

Hilton Head’s Dan Driessen, 70, is way overdue as part of the 2020 class: 1,464 hits over 15 Major League seasons from 1973 to 1987, including key roles on Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine teams that won the 1975 and 1976 World Series.

Somehow, Mike McGee is not in. The late former University of South Carolina athletic director is right there with Dabo Swinney and Dawn Staley among the most important figures in Palmetto State college athletics over the last half-century. He hired the Gamecocks’ most successful football coach, Steve Spurrier, and two-time College World Series winner Ray Tanner, among other accomplishments.

The SCAHOF should have a better understanding of pop culture.

Darius Rucker and other Hootie & the Blowfish band members haven’t just done a lot for charity with their golf tournaments (including a popular college tournament and the jovial Monday After The Masters) but have represented the state around the world as superfans.

Bill Murray’s impact as the Charleston RiverDogs’ Director of Fun, as guest picker on ESPN’s GameDay and as a Charleston sports ambassador is very SCAHOF worthy. He was inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame in 2012 for his contributions to baseball in Charleston and elsewhere.

Rucker and Murray displays would sure be fun at the new museum.

Again, Solomon is the ideal facilitator for all this.

He pushed for Driessen’s induction for years. He saw Murray in action while working for the RiverDogs and knows the importance of a good athletic director.

Solomon worked on the SCHOF board of directors for 15 years and closely with Ulmer since 2018. He’s well-acquainted with his revised board and executive committee, a steadfast group of more than 60 people.

All of them, including Solomon, serve as volunteers.

Mostly, Solomon knows how to (gently) twist arms to get SCAHOF things done as a tribute to the past and for sports fans of the future.

“I have a Political Science degree from College of Charleston and a Masters in History from Winthrop,” Solomon said with a chuckle. “In this job, I’m using my college degrees.”

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