About a quarter of a century separates Marcia Nash’s and Taffika Haynes’ senior years at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
Yet the two former Bruinettes share a special bond with others who donned the Orange and White colors on the Bruins’ Den hardwood during the program’s illustrious history. It’s especially sacred among those who played for a man who was as much a father figure as a head coach who guided them to four state championships during 19 winning seasons at O-W – the late Edward Pellman.
“(I remember Pellman) telling us to never give up,” she said. “This is our house. Even though we’re not at our house, make it our house. Always striving to get us to do better, even in class or in basketball, whatever. He’s a good man. He’s like my father. I could call him my dad. He was a good coach and I love him to death.”
Saturday night in the Bruins’ Den (or Pellman’s Place as it’s nicknamed by some of his former players), a tribute was paid to the winning tradition he and those championship players established there. During halftime of the girls’ basketball game between the top-ranked, undefeated Bruinettes and Calhoun County, a special ceremony was held recognizing players from the state championship teams of 1987, 1991, 2000 and 2002.
In addition, a moment of silence was observed and a special portrait was presented in honor of the program’s winningest head coach.
“It’s a blessing to come back,” Haynes said. “It’s 10 years for me. It’s a blessing to come back to see my teammates and following players and teammates and stuff like that. What can I say? Coach Pellman and all of his players and my teammates.”
Standing outside the office where Pellman and the players regularly met following practice brought a flood of emotions and great memories from Nash, who spoke at her former coach’s funeral in 2003.
“I can’t go any further than to step around this corner and knew that the winning coach, the backbone, the foundation, was right around there waiting and letting us do what we had to do to become (24-0),” Nash said. “So the memories are awesome. He was in here tonight. He was here. I just wish I could do more.”
Nash was a guard of the school’s first undefeated state championship team when she hit the game-winning jumper in the 53-51 over Eau Claire in the final. She believes that team and the three other championship squads were a unique group which lived up to Pellman’s standards of hard work and perseverance and set the tone for the past 25 years at O-W.
“It doesn’t get any sweeter than that because we built this,” Nash said. “We built this tradition and it was hard work. You’re not going to find a group of girls like us ever again because nobody could tell us to go practice. We just did it because our coach said you’re the best. So just to come back and represent with the other teams it shows that the team that plays together, stays together.”
Haynes is one of the selected Bruinettes who were a part of two state championships. She was a sophomore forward on the Tasha Cook team in 2000 which rebounded after her return from a foot injury to win eight straight games and defeat Summerville 57-45 in the title game.
“I cried before the game, but we won, and believe it or not, I think was the last person that had the ball and I just threw the ball in the air after the victory,” Haynes said.
Haynes celebrated again two years later at the Colonial Coliseum as the Bruinettes capped a second 24-0 season with a 58-47 victory over previously undefeated Dutch Fork. She later earned a college scholarship at Claflin University, something she believed would never have occurred had she not played for Pellman.
“Coach Pellman, it was like he picked me up off the road and when I got here, I was well-known,” she said. “So many colleges. I mean, he really brought the best out of me.”
Both Nash and Haynes still sense Pellman’s spirit as strongly as ever, present around the gymnasium. Nash also believes more should be done to honor Pellman’s legacy and give back to a program which provided numerous opportunities for players like her.
As for today’s Bruinettes, who improved to 6-0 with the 70-32 win over the Lady Saints, she acknowledged it’s a different era with a different level of commitment. At the same time, she said they are as capable of becoming state champions if they live up to the tradition.
“At first, when (Pellman) left, I thought it was the end of basketball,” Nash said. “What I realized is the girls had to want to play basketball with his spirit in mind and understanding that (although) the coach is different, Pellman is never going to leave this gym. Regardless of the records, because you see who was on the floor tonight? Hard work, perseverance is what he built.”
After Saturday’s ceremony, current O-W girls’ basketball head coach Joshua Staley said he hopes those championship lessons will be instilled in his players as they bid to become the Bruinettes’ fifth championship team.
“It takes being a great person to be a champion,” he said. “A lot of those women are great people. They’re hard workers. Now they’re out in society doing very productive things. So the kids can see if you work hard, you can achieve your goals.”