By Steven Bradley
CLEMSON — The IPTAY National Meeting had traditionally been held the weekend after National Signing Day, but this year not only the date changed, so did the location.
On Saturday, the biggest get-together of the year for Clemson Athletics’ fundraising arm was back on its home turf after spending years — as many as anyone could remember — in what some might call enemy territory: Columbia.
“I don’t think we’ve given quite enough applause to the fact we are not in Columbia tonight,” Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney said from the podium as the final speaker of the night in Littlejohn Coliseum. “I didn’t know what the IPTAY National Meeting was and had never been until my first year here, and I’ve never quite understood why it was in Columbia.
“That always baffled me. So, this to me is a great night to be able to bring this back here to Clemson and celebrate a tremendous organization.”
With the event back on campus, IPTAY invited the attendees — approximately 600 to 700 were expected — to the Tigers’ baseball game against William & Mary that afternoon. The day continued with an open house at the Clemson Football Indoor Practice Facility before moving to the WestZone at Memorial Stadium for a gathering and finally to Littlejohn Coliseum for dinner and the program.
“We wanted to make a weekend of it,” Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director for IPTAY External Affairs Bill D’Andrea said.
The program, hosted by WYFF News 4 Today Co-Anchor Geoff Hart, began with an invocation from IPTAY President-Elect Fred Faircloth. Next up was current IPTAY President Charles Dalton, who shared news about the organization’s success and growth over the past year.
Dalton said IPTAY brought in $19.2 million in total contributions in 2012, a figure that represented an increase of about $600,000 from the previous year. For the current calendar year, IPTAY already has over 1,000 new donors through Feb. 10, which is on pace to exceed its goal of 2,000 new donors for the year.
“The primary purpose (of the event) in my mind is to thank all the IPTAY Reps, the county chairs, because they are the ones who really do all the work,” Dalton said in an interview with IPTAY Media on Saturday. “They work hard all year long signing up new members, answering questions, getting IPTAY members to increase their donations. They really carry the lion’s share of the IPTAY operation. So, it’s an opportunity at this national meeting for them to be put in the spotlight and just recognize and thank all the IPTAY Reps for the hard work they’ve done all year long to make IPTAY the success that it is.”
Following Dalton, Clemson Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich spoke about this being “a great time of change” for the university’s athletic programs, and recognized IPTAY Rep of the Year Scott Runyon of Charleston, S.C., as well as runners-up Ronnie O’Kelley of Seneca, S.C., and Faircloth of Rock Hill, S.C., along with the Young Alumni Rep of the Year, Scott Sampson of Clemson.
When Radakovich concluded his remarks, TIGEROAR — a student men’s a cappella group — took the stage to entertain the crowd by performing versions of “Jenny (867-5309),” “Carolina Girls” and “Tiger Rag.”
Next was a pair of student-athletes, volleyball player and Special Education major Alexa Rand and then quarterback and Sociology major Tajh Boyd, to share their stories about how IPTAY and the scholarships it had provided them had affected their lives.
After the current athletes spoke, another departure from past formats happened, as a former student-athlete, Jim Sutherland, a 1967 graduate and former basketball standout, was introduced.
“The key thing about him is he then went on — didn’t play professional basketball, but became a pediatric cardiologist,” IPTAY Assistant Director Jason Wilson said. “It’s kind of a good story where he went from being an IPTAY recipient of a scholarship to a graduate, a student-athlete that went on and did some great things. So, we’re hoping that we can continue to bring back more former student-athletes and just give them a chance to tell their stories.”
Finally, to close the evening, a trio of head coaches — women’s tennis coach Nancy Harrison, men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell and Swinney — took the stage.
“This event gives IPTAY Reps a chance to come and get information that will help them promote Clemson in a positive manner,” Director of the IPTAY Annual Fund Travis Furbee said. “They are such a vital part. You go to other schools, and you don’t see a sales force like we have here. We have over 700 IPTAY Reps that promote Clemson in a positive manner and help sign people up and give them reminders of deadlines and things like that. They are just extra extensions of our staff, really.”
According to D’Andrea, IPTAY Representatives were responsible for about 800 new donors — of the 1,200 new donors that signed up — last year alone, making it perfectly evident the crucial role they play in the operation.
“I think it’s an opportunity to embrace IPTAY as a dynamic organization,” D’Andrea said. “It’s kind of like Dr. (R.C.) Edwards said, ‘It would probably be hard to measure what IPTAY has done for this university.’ And I think what we want to do is use the national meeting to embrace all that.
“It’s an opportunity for us to kind of put a little bounce in our step — our IPTAY members and our IPTAY reps.”