COLUMBIA, S.C. — "The USC" is painted in bold letters on a huge smokestack towering over the 242-acre University of South Carolina campus.
Why The USC ?
"Because we are The USC," replied Greg Henkel, a 20-year-old junior who was in the school's book store buying a The USC cap and a The USC T-shirt. "The University of South Carolina was founded in 1801. It was the only major university in America with the initials USC for years.
"Then a Johnny-come-lately school on the West Coast shows up nearly a century later and calls itself USC. I've heard of that other school, but I don't know much about it."
That other school--the University of Southern California, which actually began 79 years later in 1880--doesn't know much about The USC either.
Anna Hardigree, 22, a senior at The USC, said she visited USC during this past spring break when she was in Los Angeles.
"I didn't meet anyone at USC who had ever heard of The USC. Everyone knew about the state of South Carolina, of course, but no one seemed to know anything about our school," Hardigree lamented.
Both schools have big sports programs. "We're not the powerhouse that USC in Southern California is," admitted Tom Price, 62, who has been in sports media relations at The USC for 27 years. "Closest we've come to a national title in football is 10th-best collegiate team in the country." USC's football teams have won 10 national titles.
The two USCs met on the gridiron only twice, at the Coliseum in 1980 when Southern Cal won 23-13 and at Columbia in 1983 when South Carolina won 38-14. The two schools have played each other in basketball only once with South Carolina victorious 65-58 in overtime.
"Our mascot The Fighting Rooster is a fierce bird. But our arch rivals Clemson (also in South Carolina) never lets us forget the Gamecock is a member of the chicken family. The Clemson Tigers call our team The USC Chickens," Price said.
The nickname Gamecock was adopted by South Carolina in 1902. USC became known as the Trojans when Los Angeles Times sports writer Owen R. Bird in 1912 described runners on the Southern Cal track team as "fighting like Trojans."
The University of South Carolina had a lot of history tucked under its belt long before the University of Southern California came to be.
Heart of the South Carolina campus is the historic Horseshoe, the original campus which consists of 10 buildings dating from 1805 to the 1840s.
The federal-style brick buildings, which have been restored to their 1850s appearance, have been in continuous use as classrooms, faculty offices and student residences for nearly two centuries except for 3 1/2 years during the Civil War when the campus was used as a Confederate military hospital.
Among the 10 historic buildings on the Horseshoe are the 1840 South Carolinana Library, the first free-standing college library in America, Rutledge College built in 1805, the elegant 1810 three-story home of University president James B. Holderman, and Legare College, the newest of the old buildings erected in 1847.
A lot of stories here. There was, for example, a fatal duel on campus between two students in 1833 and possibly one of the first student upheavals. In 1852, the administration tried to force all students to eat in the central dining hall. The Great Biscuit Rebellion resulted in the entire student body being expelled.
The University of South Carolina is actually a nine-campus, state-wide system with 26,435 students attending classes on Columbia's main campus and 14,357 students enrolled at the eight other campuses.
USC in Los Angeles, a private school, has only a slightly smaller enrollment of 30,831.
Both schools rank among the top universities in the nation in scholastics and research. Both have had huge building programs in recent years. The latest building on The USC campus in Columbia is the $15-million Ira and Nancy Roger Center for the Arts, a soaring glass and steel building, dedicated with a January gala opening featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
James H. Zumberge, 65, an Antarctic expert who has been USC's president for the last nine years, has earned a national reputation. The USC's president, James Holderman, is also widely recognized for his leadership at South Carolina over the last 12 years.
Holderman attracted leaders of the Caribbean nations to a summit conference on The USC's campus in 1984, lured big-name lecturers like Jihan Sadat, widow of the slain Egyptian leader, and succeeded in even getting Pope John Paul II and 26 other religious leaders to hold an ecumenical conference here in September, 1987.
A plaque on the grassy quad of the Old Horseshoe Campus recalls part of the Pope's message to students here:
"It is wonderful to be young. It is wonderful to be young and to be a student. It is wonderful to be young and to be a student of The University of South Carolina."
In May, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a profile about Holderman that was headlined: "Flamboyant President Pursues Favorite Hobby: Putting The U of South Carolina 'On the Map' "
In the Southeast, the University of South Carolina (The USC) is one of the outstanding schools of the region, just as the University of Southern California (USC) is in the Southwest.