The entrance to Williams-Brice Stadium has received a makeover. Fans can expect a new experience this season coming and going from football games, as they’re no longer greeted by a busy parking lot, but by Springs-Brooks Plaza.
It’s part of a master plan, the “Sasaki Plan,” set in motion nine years ago, according to Jeff Crane, senior associate athletics director for development at the University of South Carolina. “The generosity of Tami Springs Brooks and her family, along with several others, made this step in the plan — the plaza with its plethora of trees, walkways, benches and more — a reality,” says Jeff.
A 1980 graduate of USC and longtime supporter of the school, Tami is the daughter of the late Jack and Sara Springs who owned a tailoring business and made the travel blazers for the Carolina football team Paul Dietzel coached in the late 1960s.
“We’re very fortunate that Tami and her family were excited about this project and gave the University the lead money,” Jeff says. “She very much believes in family and gathering together, and Williams-Brice has been just that on Saturdays in the fall.”
The main objective of the plaza was improving the look and experience for fans when they arrive and leave. “Not only does the plaza beautify the area around the stadium, but it also makes it safer,” Jeff explains. “This will make the pedestrian traffic flow easier. It was often difficult for fans as they entered the stadium.”
Die-hard Gamecock fans such as Attorney General Alan Wilson agree. “My whole life people have referred to the area around Williams-Brice as the concrete jungle,” he says, while noting the ways it’s improved over the years. “The stadium is a beautiful painting without a frame, and I believe creating a park that greets the fans on game day provides it with that frame.”
Alan previously parked next to the stadium before home games. “I had a wonderful time, but there wasn’t a whole lot to it,” he explains. “Not only is the plaza good for fans, but it’ll sell future recruits on our school which improves the program overall. The way we’re landscaping — and tearing down the concrete jungle — makes it a better tool for recruiting.”
Tami said her love for family, the community at Carolina and God inspired her to contribute to the project. The inscription honoring her at the plaza bears a Bible verse that’s significant for her, James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
“None of this would be possible if God had not enabled it,” she says. “I always give the glory to God.”
When the Gamecock Village was completed, Tami learned from Athletic Director Ray Tanner that the University also planned on beautifying the area around the stadium. “I thought that was a great idea, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “A lot of other stadiums are on campus, and so many of them have a pretty area right around the stadium.”
With memories of her father Jack building relationships at USC, Tami built meaningful relationships of her own at the school. “The friendships made me want to get more involved, give back, help others and help make the facilities beautiful,” she says. “It gives you so much joy to give away what you have.”
She credits her parents too, for instilling in her a love of family and the University that she’s passed on to her own children. In 2005, when her son, Jerrett Oates, graduated from USC, she bought a Cockaboose, and they haven’t missed a home game since. For Tami, attending the football games is like coming home. But she’s not content to just enjoy it herself; she wants more families to become a part of the Carolina community.
“The more we can improve our facilities, the more athletes are going to want to come to USC,” she says. “It’s going to change the dynamics of their families and have an impression and show them how important an education is.”
Ray Tanner says he’s thrilled to see the improvements, too. “It’s a great stadium, and now we’ve transformed it thanks to the generosity of Tami and her family,” he says, adding that years ago Williams-Brice had a very industrial feel. “We’ve made tremendous strides. It’s exciting to watch the growth.”
Construction on the plaza began in late 2014, and in July of this year, the bricks were laid to honor participants in the project. With lighting, pathways, and more than 300 trees, the plaza also features a statue of 1980 Heisman trophy winner George Rogers who played for the Gamecocks.
According to Tommy Suggs, former Carolina quarterback and longtime USC broadcaster, the plaza is a much-needed step to tie together the stadium and Gamecock Village tailgate park.
“The Springs-Brooks Plaza is going to showcase the stadium. They’ve made it a destination,” he says, listing other college football stadiums he’s seen in his 42 years doing the broadcast. “This can be as good, if not better, than any other school. Before, you kind of had to carry your own fun with you; now, it’s all around you.”
Tami says that in addition to her son Jerrett her 34-year-old daughter, Christi Oates, 16-year-old daughter Boni Belle Brooks and 12-year-old grandson, Landon Oates, are huge Carolina fans, and they’re ecstatic about the plaza.
“My children are such a big part of my life, and I include them in everything I do. So much of what I’ve done for the school is because I want to spend quality time with my kids,” she says. “If I die tomorrow, I want them to be proud that this is something we did for the University. It means the world to them that we’re doing this.”
Moving forward, she believes the University needs to keep building and renovating to stay competitive. “Change is good; if we’re going to keep up with other universities in the country, we have to keep making things better,” she says. “I think with President Pastides and the other wonderful leaders we’re going to continue to improve.”
Noting the “major step forward” in 1991 of joining the Southeastern Conference — and another big move of hiring Steve Spurrier in 2004 — Tommy Suggs says continued growth is a must. “You have to spend money to make money, and South Carolina’s been known as a school not wanting to spend the money, but I think we’ve proven everyone wrong. We’re fortunate to be in the position we’re in, but we need to keep moving forward,” he says.
The $14 million plaza was largely covered by donors, as Tami and dozens of others contributed. A new track is underway, and the field house across from Williams-Brice is nearing completion.
Ray Tanner says, “Many years ago our facilities didn’t measure up to many of our peers, but today many of our facilities are top notch.” Recounting the changes over the past 20 years through University leadership, donors and ticket holders investing in the program, he adds, “Williams-Brice is a tremendous venue for college football. Now the energy level will reach new heights.”
Tommy’s enthusiasm about the plaza provides one piece of evidence of that energy: “I’m really excited, and I’ve been wanting it for years,” he says. “To see it come to fruition, it’s like Utopia.”