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When three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley took the reins of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball program in 2008, the Gamecocks’ stature immediately rose not just in the Southeastern Conference but on the national stage as well. (You may have noticed, they just earned another Final Four spot, making this their 6th year in a row of success in the NCAA tournament.)
Building on a foundation of hard work, defensive effort and a “team first” mentality, South Carolina began to realize those expectations in 2011-12. The program has continued to thrive as one of seven in the nation to be ranked in every AP Top 25 poll since the start of the 2013-14 season. The future continues to brighten as the nation’s top recruits make Columbia, S.C., a highly coveted destination.
Dawn Staley was thrust into the national spotlight in 1988 when USA Today named her the National High School Player of the Year. This led to her recruitment to play at the University of Virginia for hall of fame coach Debbie Ryan. At UVA, Staley was a standout player, leading her team to several NCAA Tournament appearances including one trip to the title game in 1991, which the Lady Cavaliers lost to Tennessee in overtime. Staley completed her studies at UVA in 1992, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Communication Studies.
Following a very successful playing career at UVA, Dawn Staley went on to play for several international teams before joining the Richmond Rage of the American Basketball League. In the 1999 WNBA Draft, Staley was selected by the Charlotte Sting as the 9th overall pick and led the team to the championship game of the WNBA playoffs in 2001. She was traded to the Houston Comets in 2005, where she played for one season before retiring. Staley also has a decorated career as an Olympian, bringing home gold medals for basketball in the 1995, 2000, and 2004 games. She counts carrying the U.S. flag in the 2004 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony among her most gratifying moments on the international stage.
An unwavering commitment to serving the communities where she works and lives inspired Coach Staley to create The Dawn Staley Foundation in her hometown of Philadelphia, aimed at giving inner-city children positive input through after-school programs. She continued to invest time with various projects in Columbia, but found that she craved one hallmark initiative that could provide sustained assistance and create lasting change, especially for children. In July 2013, Staley found that in the creation of INNERSOLE, which provides new sneakers to children who are homeless or otherwise in need. Remembering the feeling of confidence and pride she felt as a child whenever she wore new sneakers, Staley initially launched the organization via social media, and her broad network of friends, fans and colleagues immediately leapt into action. Shoes poured in from all around the country, and a movement was born.
Local and national organizations have recognized Staley’s commitment to giving back, most recently in 2013 when former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley awarded her Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor from the governor bestowed on those who have displayed significant achievement and service to the state. Staley has twice been presented the Wanamaker Award (1997, 2005), presented annually to the athlete, team or organization that has done the most to reflect credit upon Philadelphia and to the team or sport in which he/she excels. She is the only individual woman to ever win the award and joins Joe Frazier and Steve Carlton as the only individuals to capture the honor twice. In 2007, the Rotary Club of Tulsa named Staley its female recipient of the Henry P. Iba Citizenship Award, which is presented annually to the male and female athlete who has excelled in both their sport and their service to others.
While her coaching career is blossoming, Dawn Staley continues to be recognized for her body of work as a one of the most decorated participants in United States women’s basketball history.