Linda White has always been open to possibilities as a coach, athletic administrator and mother.
By Beth Jarrard
Linda White has been a Clemson Tiger since 1986, posting a record of 138-81 in eight years as head volleyball coach, but now she is helping others learn what it really means to Be a T.I.G.E.R!
White had capped off her coaching career, including six straight 20-win years, with 12 years as associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator. After retiring in 2005, she returned to the athletic department part time as director of community relations. She now coordinates the Solid Orange Squad, an elite student-athlete service organization that showcases Clemson’s programs and achievements in the community through public appearances and service projects.
“We were doing so much for the athletes, and we felt we needed to teach them to give back,” White said. “The idea behind the Solid Orange Squad was to help them learn the joy of giving and not just taking.”
Community service wasn’t exactly a new concept — many Clemson coaches encouraged student athletes to participate — but SOS took things to a new level.
White developed the Be a T.I.G.E.R! program with lessons and activities that teach elementary and middle school students about the values of teamwork, integrity, gratitude, education and respect.
Almost 40 percent of Clemson’s 500 student athletes are currently involved, presenting about 65 assembly programs a year and logging more than 6,000 hours into the ClemsonCounts service data system.
White said many student athletes were willing to visit schools, but they didn’t always know what to say to the kids. “This program provides them with a consistent message, a basis for starting the conversation with their young fans,” said White.
Clemson was the first Division I university to incorporate focused character education in all personal appearances, service projects and community work. And it came at a time when South Carolina was incorporating character education into the curriculum for public schools.
In addition to presenting programs in character education, members of the Solid Orange Squad create and maintain a positive relationship with the community by mentoring young students who are struggling.
“Clemson student athletes are paired with at-risk middle school kids as e-mail buddies,” White said. “They encourage them to be good students, to make good decisions.”
The kids are invited to campus for the spring football game and lunch with their buddies. They also receive the Be a T.I.G.E.R! newspaper, published by the student athletes and featuring news stories, photos, games and fun facts.
As a part-time employee, White depends on the SOS members to help run the program, but she emphasized that Clemson’s compliance office approves all projects and events to ensure NCAA regulations are met. The e-mail exchanges are also monitored.
“Teachers at the middle schools and administrators at Clemson review all e-mails before anyone hits the send button,” White said. “We want to make sure that these relationships are productive and appropriate.”
A leap of faith
White said coming to Clemson in 1986 was a “leap of faith” for her and her family — one of many that have marked her life.
Linda Edwards grew up in Travelers Rest, a small town in northern Greenville County. Roger White grew up in an even smaller community as a standout basketball player at a rival high school, Slater-Marietta.
“I chased him relentlessly in high school, but when he finally asked me out, my daddy refused to let me go,” White said.
When the two left for college — she to Winthrop, he to Charleston Southern — they began dating. They married in 1970.
As a successful basketball and volleyball coach at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant for 14 years, White was named National Volleyball Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association in 1982.
Her husband taught physical education and coached basketball and tennis at Charleston High School.
Their daughter, Lucia, was born in 1979.
Then Clemson came calling.
White took a pay cut to make the move from high school to college coaching. Roger didn’t have a job when they moved to Clemson. And Lucia didn’t want to move, period.
But the Whites saw the potential.
Roger went back to school and secured a position in charge of the lab at Engelhard, now a part of BASF, when the company moved south from New Jersey. Linda dug into building Clemson’s volleyball program while earning a Master of Education degree in administration and supervision. Lucia made new friends. They all became fully involved in the Clemson community.
It was the Clemson community that White said “literally held us up” when Lucia died on Jan. 31, 1995, at the age of 15.
She was returning from a Super Bowl party with a friend. The young driver lost control of the car. Lucia, the only passenger, died in the crash.
Friends and colleagues offered the family support in numerous ways, and then-athletic director Bobby Robinson engaged a grief counselor to help the other coaches and staff process their own feelings of loss.
White describes the subsequent days and weeks as “a blur,” but she recalls leaning on her strong spiritual foundation.
“I felt a nudge,” she said. Something … or someone … “was telling me not to be afraid to love.”
Two years after the tragic accident, the Whites made another leap of faith and welcomed an infant son into their lives.
“Roger thought I had gone over the edge,” she said, describing their decision to adopt a child through a private agency in Charleston. But by the time the little boy was born, both the Whites were optimistic about the future.
They took the baby home before 24 hours had passed and named him Slater Martin White, in honor of Roger’s basketball hero — not his hometown.
Slater “Dugie” Martin Jr. played guard (Roger’s position) for 11 seasons in the National Basketball Association, played in seven NBA All-Star games, and also coached professional basketball in the 1960s.
A Texas native, Martin played college ball for the University of Texas and is the only Longhorn inductee into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. When former Tiger basketball coach Rick Barnes left Clemson to become the head coach at UT, he met Martin and told him of these special parents and this special little boy who found each other.
“I think Rick identified so closely with our situation because he had lost a younger sister,” White said.
The elder Slater Martin regularly calls and sends gifts to young Slater Martin White — now a tall 13-year-old who plays basketball and baseball. And like his dad, who played trumpet in a family band with his siblings, Slater also plays trumpet and piano (like his Aunt Lynn).
White admits it hasn’t all been easy. Slater once proudly announced to his kindergarten class, “My momma is 50 years old.”
But White knows she has been blessed many times over for taking this leap of faith.
White said her son sometimes catches her gazing at him. “Momma, why are you looking at me that way?” he asks.
Her answer is simple and sincere. “I tell him that looking at him reminds me of how much God loves me.”