The Ballad of Sir Large Spur — South Carolina’s strange-but-true story of a dwell mascot handler feud

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Whereas the remainder of the school sports activities world spent the summer season of 2022 wrangling myriad points that threatened to tear asunder the sports activities we love, these in, round and supporters of College of South Carolina athletics discovered themselves snatched up into the claws of a a lot completely different sort of title, picture and likeness debate. One with feathers.

Over the course of 4 fowl weeks, the Gamecocks’ dwell mascot, a regal red-winged, black-breasted Outdated English rooster, went from Sir Large Spur to Cock Commander (type of) to a bunch of different names we have already forgotten to The Normal … to Sir Large Spur once more, simply within the beak of time for the school soccer season. When His Cockiness struts into Williams-Brice Stadium to take his place alongside Uga the bulldog for Saturday’s Week 3 dwelling sport in opposition to border rival Georgia, the poultry peevishness that led to so many nom de plumes for he of the plumage appears to lastly have been put to roost. Or has it?

Be part of us for this particular ESPN.com investigative report, as we observe the path of feed and tell-tale tracks of three toes ahead, one toe again. Let’s name it … Claw & Order.

DUN-DUN

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
COLUMBIA, S.C.
9 A.M. AUG. 2, 2022

When South Carolina athletic directors arrived for work on Tuesday, Aug. 2, they had been greeted by a story within the Charleston Put up and Courier, written by longtime Gamecocks beat author David Cloninger, titled “No extra Sir Large Spur? Controversy over Gamecocks’ dwell mascot ruffles feathers.”

These directors had been already conscious of a standoff surrounding the symbolic hen that, as of the day earlier than, was now stopping them from utilizing the title bestowed upon that rooster for greater than 20 years. Sir Large Spur had grow to be a steady, er, staple at each Gamecocks sporting occasion, from the Males’s School World Collection and NCAA Ladies’s Remaining 4 to School GameDay alongside Lee Corso and getting held aloft by soccer coach Shane Beamer after final yr’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl over North Carolina.

However legally talking, that Gamecock was now anonymous. These within the constructing had identified it for twenty-four hours. Now everybody else knew it, too.

“I’ve spent a profession breaking information of teaching fires and hires and written numerous actual, in-depth tales that I’m genuinely happy with,” Cloninger stated. “However the story that everybody goes to recollect was a couple of rooster.”

In that story, Cloninger detailed a feud between two South Carolina {couples}, the unique Sir Large Spur handlers and the pair who took over two years in the past, handpicked by the individuals with whom they had been now battling.

DUN-DUN

SARGE FRYE FIELD
COLUMBIA, S.C.
SPRING 1999

At first, the sight of a rooster strutting atop a ballpark dugout caught Gamecocks baseball followers fully off guard. However because the innings and video games and weeks glided by, these followers not solely embraced the high-stepping hen, they turned downright ornery when he did not present up. It was head coach Ray Tanner’s third season in Columbia, and his squad made a run to the SEC East division title.

“After they began speaking to me a couple of hen within the ballpark, I wasn’t so positive,” Tanner stated again in 1999. “But it surely looks like at any time when he is right here, we win. So, convey him on!”

It was a dinner with Tanner that led to the rooster touchdown the gig within the first place. South Carolina grad Mary Snelling and husband Ron Albertelli of Aiken, South Carolina, had gained a personal supper with the baseball coach as a part of a fundraiser. Throughout that meal, Snelling defined to Tanner she acquired a rooster by her father, who’d given her the hen on the advice of a buddy who was identified to have participated in some unlawful cockfights, which on the time weren’t too troublesome to seek out in Upstate South Carolina. So long as the rooster wasn’t allowed onto the sphere, Tanner was on board. So for seven springs, the rooster adopted the baseball staff, together with three straight journeys to the School World Collection in Omaha.

Regardless of its dedication to hardball, the hen was bestowed a gridiron title, Cocky Doodle Lou, after then-head soccer coach Lou Holtz. However realizing soccer coaches do not stick round eternally, Snelling and Albertelli modified the moniker to Sir Large Spur. In 2006, on the request of the athletic division, Sir Large Spur made his soccer debut. He has been there ever since, the job handed over via the claws of six completely different Gamecocks, from Sir Large Spur I to Sir Large Spur VI, all raised and educated by the couple on their 28-acre farm outdoors of Aiken. The arrival of the rooster atop his remote-controlled Roost Curler, customized constructed by Albertelli, causes Williams-Brice to erupt as if Spencer Rattler has simply tossed a landing go.

The College of South Carolina has by no means owned or taken care of Sir Large Spur. They’ve additionally by no means paid Snelling and Albertelli for his or her efforts, apart from some assistance on journey bills.

“This is not concerning the cash,” Albertelli defined in a 2010 ESPN interview. “That is about our love for the Gamecocks and bringing some delight to a really proud fan base and really proud athletes.”

There have been, nonetheless, agreements signed regarding sure copyrights and logos. Notably the sharing of the hen’s nickname, a title created by the couple however used extensively by the college. For years, Sir Large Spur has retained vital authorized counsel in Charleston’s Joe Rice, a Gamecocks superfan greatest identified for negotiating huge settlements with Large Tobacco and after the 2010 BP oil spill within the Gulf of Mexico.

The most recent of the contracts drawn up between Albertelli, Snelling and South Carolina is the one which expired on Aug. 1, 2022.

DUN-DUN

WILLIAMS-BRICE STADIUM
COLUMBIA, S.C.
APRIL 16, 2022

The Gamecocks had been on the sphere for his or her annual Garnet & Black Spring Sport. The decrease bowl of the stadium was packed, with greater than 20,000 followers in attendance. Rattler, the high-profile switch QB, had the place buzzing, as did the handfuls of former Carolina gamers, from 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers to present NFL star Deebo Samuel.

However the most well-liked picture op was with Sir Large Spur VII, the newest within the historical past of South Carolina’s dwell mascots. His predecessor handed away earlier within the spring, on the estimated age of 12. Poor Large Spur VI had endured greater than any of his ancestors. He was compelled to remain dwelling all through the 2020 season due to COVID-19 protocols. What’s extra, on the finish of the 2019 season, he had modified houses and handlers.

Beth and Van Clark are South Carolina alums and retired educators. They dwell in Edgefield, South Carolina, positioned close to the Georgia state line, a couple of half-hour from Augusta Nationwide and that very same distance north of Aiken. It was throughout a go to to Aiken that Van Clark caught a glimpse of Sir Large Spur and met Albertelli. They hit it off. So did their wives. Snelling and Albertelli had been serious about retiring as Spur’s handlers. At one level, they’d tried to get Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo to take over, however the zookeeper stated no. He was a Clemson grad.

As a substitute, they recruited the Clarks and shortly pressed them into service on the season-ending Clemson sport. The newbies held their very own and landed the job.

After Spur VI’s loss of life, the Clarks began bringing three roosters to Gamecocks sporting occasions. These birds hadn’t been raised by Snelling and Albertelli. These had been the Clarks’ first homegrown candidates. Every look was an audition. How did every rooster react to crowds? To noise? To enjoying the half as Columbia’s literal cock of the stroll? All three of the roosters had been featured closely on social media throughout baseball season. The Chosen One, the brand new Sir Spur VII, debuted on the spring sport, dwell on SEC Community.

Each single picture that was posted or broadcast made Snelling and Albertelli angrier and angrier. Whereas the remainder of Gamecock Nation noticed an impressive hen prepared for a battle, they noticed one thing that made them prepared for a tussle of their very own. Sir Large Spur’s head wasn’t clear shaven. It had a vivid pink comb.

Snelling thought to himself, after which aloud to Cloninger within the Put up-Courier, that the brand new Sir Large Spur did not seem like a Sir Large Spur in any respect.

“He seems to be like Barney the Barnyard Rooster.”

DUN-DUN

ARCHIPELAGO OF SAINT LAZARUS
KINGDOM OF TAYTAY
THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS
MARCH 22, 1521

Throughout Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world, the Portuguese explorer and his crew first witnessed a betting man’s sport that had been in existence for hundreds of years at numerous corners of the globe, cockfighting.

As the game advanced (a relative time period at greatest), those that educated roosters for combating adopted a apply now often known as “dubbing,” the trimming or removing of the hen’s comb. In line with Gail Damerow, fashionable poultry professional and creator of “The Hen Encyclopedia,” the comb is outlined as: “A fleshy crownlike protrusion on high of a rooster’s head, often extra outstanding in cocks than hens.” In different phrases, the large pink floppy factor on high of a rooster’s head.

The comb does certainly serve an necessary objective. Chickens haven’t got the power to sweat, so the comb acts as a kind of radiator. The hen’s blood fills the fleshy organ — thus the brilliant pink coloration — expelling warmth into the air after which returning, refreshed and cooled, again into the physique. Like another organ, it will probably grow to be contaminated, injured or diseased. In these circumstances, it can be eliminated, partially or totally.

Many who participated within the sport — which is now unlawful in all 50 U.S. states — practiced dubbing to forestall extreme bleeding. Due in no small half as a consequence of that stigma, to dub or to not dub is a supply of intense debate all through the livestock business at the moment.

Seems, that debate extends to the world of dwell mascots.

DUN-DUN

A CHICKEN COOP
EDGEFIELD, S.C.
AUG. 1, 2022

The Clarks purposely selected to depart the comb atop the top of their Sir Large Spur candidates, explaining the choice to not dub as being in the most effective pursuits of their well being. They pointed to the overheated atmosphere of the notoriously sweltering streets of Columbia and sidelines of Williams-Brice Stadium, the place daytime temperatures sometimes keep within the 80s almost throughout the school soccer season. Their supporters level to the plethora of rooster combs that clearly are seen wherever Carolina sports activities are performed and celebrated, atop hen heads from the official athletics emblem to the enormous Gamecock statue outdoors the primary Williams-Brice Stadium gate.

Their aviary ancestors, nonetheless, took subject. Why? As a result of, to them, it simply did not look proper. Albertelli has been notably pointed. In August, he questioned the rooster’s toughness, bemoaned “making a gamecock right into a rooster” and spoke of “dumbing down the Gamecocks.”

His demand was easy. Till he noticed a rooster and not using a comb strutting round Columbia, he was holding on to the title Sir Large Spur, which was nicely inside his authorized rights as of Aug. 1, 2022.

The College of South Carolina opened the coop gate to new nickname concepts. Its record was an inside one, and after a lot debate, college officers believed that they had an acceptable substitute. The issue was, the individuals had different concepts.

DUN-DUN

NEWSROOM
THE STATE
COLUMBIA, S.C.
AUG. 24, 2022

Dwayne McLemore is a son of Myrtle Seashore and a proud graduate of South Carolina’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. In faculty, he labored at The Day by day Gamecock, one in every of America’s most revered pupil newspapers.

McLemore had learn former coworker David Cloninger’s Aug. 2 Sir Large Spur story with nice curiosity. Shortly after, he acquired a tip the varsity had determined to not battle Albertelli and was quickly going to announce a brand new title for its combed dwell mascot.

So, he assigned a recap of the Sir Large Spur controversy to the latest member of The State’s sports activities division. Jeremiah Holloway had simply graduated from the opposite Carolina, the College of North Carolina, and he dutifully knocked out a 300-word refresher on the title mess.

After which he added a web based ballot.

It appeared harmless sufficient. “What new title ought to USC give the dwell mascot rooster?”

“We threw it out within the newsroom for concepts, and a few good ones got here again,” McLemore stated. “We have all been round South Carolina lengthy sufficient to know that typically you are going to get some inappropriate concepts with Gamecocks. That simply comes with the territory. At all times has.

Then Sarah Ellis recommended “Cock Commander.”

DUN-DUN

NEWSROOM
THE DAILY GAMECOCK
COLUMBIA, S.C.
NOV. 18, 2004

Sarah Ellis, now an enterprise editor and reporter at The State, was on the workers of The Day by day Gamecock till she graduated from South Carolina in 2014. She, like McLemore and anybody else who had ever labored on the scholar paper, had heard the legend. Even a decade later it was nonetheless each an excellent snicker and a cautionary story.

The story goes that it was Clemson week, so stress ranges had been excessive and the sleep hour rely was low. The duvet picture for the subsequent morning’s paper was a dramatic shot of Cocky, the varsity’s non-live mascot, with its felt wing arms outstretched as a Clemson Tiger burned behind him.

For many who do not know, when newspaper and journal pages are initially designed, the primary phrases positioned into the areas the place tales and descriptions will dwell are sometimes dummy strains. They could be a bunch of Xs or nothing greater than a random string of letters and phrases, something to measure out and maintain down the house till the true phrases are written and positioned.

On this evening, the format editor felt impressed. Too impressed. So, he wrote out the following words beneath the apocalyptic pheasant:

“I’m the Cock Commander. All different cocks should bow earlier than the Cock Commander. Yo soy el Cock Commander.”

The editors realized that they had despatched their newspaper to the printer having forgotten to interchange the dummy caption.

It was too late.

The following morning, the scholars of the College of South Carolina reached into newspaper containers all through Columbia for the Friday version of The Day by day Gamecock, and people three strains had been nonetheless there, accompanying the picture.

DUN-DUN

THE INTERNET
AUG. 25, 2022

Simply because it was too late to cease the Cock Commander in 2004, it was too late to cease him in 2022.

“Truthfully, the primary 24 hours or so, it was fairly tame,” Holloway stated. “However then the ballot was picked up by some nationwide faculty soccer writers and so they posted it due to Cock Commander. As a result of I had written the story with the ballot, I used to be copied on Twitter. I knew simply based mostly on what I noticed due to that, it was getting numerous consideration.”

Plenty of consideration, as in 18,869 votes. That is lots for a web based newspaper sports activities ballot. A whopping 78% of these votes — 14,760 in all — went for Cock Commander. The following closest was Cluck Norris with 7% , 1,408 votes. Not one of the different 9 choices (Marco Pollo, Cock-a-doodle-dude, Brooster, and many others.) got here near a thousand votes.

“You spend your complete life round this faculty like I’ve and also you get accustomed to the snickers concerning the nickname,” Cloninger stated of the skyrocketing ballot. “I imply, the campus bookstore has all the time had hats and shirts with ‘Go Cocks’ and all the time will. However when the nation will get maintain of it and the jokes begin, it will take off.”

The telephone began ringing within the athletic division. Some known as to endorse the title. They needed to be informed that the ballot was not affiliated with the college. Others, individuals of far more significance to the varsity, known as to specific their embarrassment and wished to know what was being accomplished to make it go away. They had been informed {that a} savior was on the best way, arriving by means of a information launch … and horseback.

DUN-DUN

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT OFFICES
COLUMBIA, S.C.
2 P.M. AUG. 29, 2022

When The State posted its ballot, it included the nickname “The Normal,” and looking back, that wasn’t random.

Sources had indicated that was the title college officers had already chosen to fill the void left by Sir Large Spur. By the point that call was made official on Monday, Aug. 29, the week of South Carolina soccer’s season opener, the newspaper’s ballot had been closed and The Normal had completed a paltry sixth, with solely 2% of the vote.

The following morning, the thud that adopted the announcement was nonetheless reverberating. The title actually gained no momentum when even Rattler was requested concerning the rooster’s new title and replied, “I assumed it was Cock Commander, truthfully.”

The reasoning for the brand new title (apart from avoiding authorized maneuvering across the hen’s earlier homeowners) was defined by South Carolina Deputy Athletics Director Eric Nichols. “Once we realized that we must change his title to maintain that custom alive, it appeared becoming to return to the place ‘Gamecocks’ acquired began.”

Patriot Brigadier Normal Thomas Sumter led a militia of 1,000 troops in the course of the Revolutionary Conflict. He turned often known as the “Preventing Gamecock,” a backhanded praise bestowed upon him by the British, whom he terrorized all through the South Carolina countryside. His biggest victory was earned whereas he additionally hid gunshot wounds all through his physique. The purpose is, the OG Normal Gamecock was robust — simply not robust sufficient to carry off Sir Large Spur.

DUN-DUN

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION
SOUTH CAROLINA
SEPT. 1, 2022

Sooner or later, a gathering passed off involving Mary Snelling and Ron Albertelli, Beth and Van Clark and South Carolina athletic directors, mediated by the person who’s beloved by all Gamecocks, Ray Tanner, the college’s athletic director since 2012.

The main points haven’t and maybe by no means might be revealed. However what we do know is the next:

On the afternoon of Sept. 1, barely 48 hours earlier than the school soccer season kicked off, it was introduced that The Normal was no extra. Sir Large Spur was as soon as once more the title of the dwell mascot.

And when that Gamecock rode into Williams-Brice Stadium on that Saturday night, he was and not using a comb.

Some imagine Sir Large Spur VII may truly be VIII, the undubbed rooster raised by the Clarks having been changed by a combless hen already groomed by Snelling and Albertelli earlier than they knew they might be handing over their duties.

All events concerned are retaining their beaks closed for now, because the official phrases of their truce are finalized.

However one factor is for positive. It is a weekend when everybody — from former to present handlers, from these within the pupil part carrying bootleg Cock Commander T-shirts to these within the suites who made positive that title by no means had an opportunity — will put their variations behind them. They may be part of forces and focus their power on the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs coming to city.

They may bounce to “Sandstorm,” sing “We Hail Thee Carolina” and work to heal the injuries they’ve suffered over the summer season that ran a-fowl.



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