Several hundred enthusiastic supporters of South Carolina State athletics gathered Thursday to learn about the university’s recent fundraising successes.

S.C. State announced it’s raised more than $1.67 million toward a goal of $2 million by December of 2019 in the R.I.S.E. major gift initiative.

The event signaled both improvements and a major step toward more success for Bulldog student-athletes.

Thursday's announcement took place in the K.W. Green Student Center.

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According to S.C. State Athletics Director Stacy Danley, the fundraising effort will pay for increased athletic scholarship funding, major upgrades to the school's track facility and a new turf playing surface for the football team on Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

"In my nearly 30 years in college athletics, as both a student-athlete and as an administrator, this is without a doubt my proudest moment," Danley said. "This day is about educating and graduating those young men and women who are our student-athletes.

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"One of our greatest challenges is resources, the funding to provide the best student-athlete environment and experience for those young people. At three other institutions, I pitched this (fundraising initiative) to three other presidents, and I got two strikes. I didn't want to strike out. So, I thank you, (S.C. State) President Clark for saying yes when I pitched this idea to you. This (campaign) gives us the shot in the arm where, in the past, we have had to tell coaches no, but now we are able to say yes to some needed improvements and upgrades."

S.C. State President James E. Clark told those in attendance Thursday that the R.I.S.E. initiative "represents the greatest of Bulldog tenacity."

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"Our athletics program is one of the cornerstones of this historic institution. Being a student-athlete about five decades ago, I myself learned that (through sports) your leadership skills really take form. You get a lot of book learning going to the classroom. But, when you're working with a team, what you learn will last your entire life."

Clark spoke of the spring of 2017, when Danley was hired to lead the athletic department for the Bulldogs.

"We had a real honest talk then about how I wanted to support the athletic program, but couldn't, not having deep enough pockets as a school to do what we needed to do. We knew we had to raise money and reach out to all of those supporters out there in a very logical way. Yes, it's a little unconventional. But, this is how we're starting to do things at the university, having focused campaigns that labor and fold into a much larger universitywide initiative."

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With 99 S.C. State student-athletes having made the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner's All-Academic Team, Bulldog pride and accomplishments have extended to the classroom.

David Bottenberg, an S.C. State men's basketball player who carries a 4.0 grade point average, told those in attendance Thursday that "it's the opportunity of a lifetime to get a free education on scholarship."

"Prior to attending South Carolina State, I was really doubted by people about my athletic abilities and my academic abilities," Bottenberg said. "(Here) I've developed into both a better basketball player and a better man."

Increased funding for various sports in the athletic department will give teams a greater chance to attract high-quality recruits and compete more consistently.

"We want our teams to rack up all the MEAC championships we can," Clark said. "But, they can't do it alone.

"Obviously, our facilities and the funds necessary for them to accomplish things on the level we expect them to accomplish them can only be done with the support of each and every one of you. We thank and appreciate all who have given and all who continue to give."

Bulldogs football coach Buddy Pough, entering his 18th season leading the S.C. State program, said "this means a lot for the future, and it gives you confidence in the fact that we've got a chance to be what we're used to seeing South Carolina State football be when we're really good."

R.I.S.E. campaign co-chair Hank Allen, a 1978 graduate and a Miller Society member who has given more than $100,000 in institutional donations to S.C. State, spoke Thursday of the excitement the R.I.S.E. initiative brings and the possibilities it offers for Bulldogs athletics and school pride.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference at S.C. State by supporting the R.I.S.E. initiative," Allen said. "Our coaching staff and our student-athletes work extremely hard from both a classroom standpoint and an athletic standpoint.

"The R.I.S.E. initiative will help us provide more scholarships, giving our coaches the opportunity to recruit more of the best and brightest student-athletes back to our university. It will also help us do some nice housekeeping -- we have a football turf that needs to be replaced and we have a track that hasn't been in good enough shape to host a track meet in many years. Join me in making a difference in the lives of student-athletes."

The R.I.S.E. campaign represents an acronym for the words Renovate, Innovate, Scholarship and Excellence.

R.I.S.E. co-chair Douglas Gant -- a 1984 S.C. State graduate -- reminded those in attendance Thursday of a quote from High Point University President Nido Qubein: "When you give someone something, you should just forget it; but when you receive something from someone, you should always remember."

Gantt said, “The people whose names are on some of the walls around campus, they don't even know my name. But, they made a place for me to be here, to attend college and graduate.

"So I give and I forget, instead of worrying about the things that may have happened or could have happened differently. There's nothing wrong with giving back and helping others have a brighter future and become successful in life."

The S.C. State athletic department has invested $300,000 of the funds into 2019 summer school scholarships and $37,000 into academic scholarships for the next two semesters, as a result of the major gift initiative.

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