On Saturdays in the fall, 80,000 people funnel toward Williams-Brice Stadium to watch their beloved University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. Most fans are cheering loudly with a plate of food and a beverage with friends. What’s often forgotten are the behind the scenes people that make their game day experience enjoyable. You could say that without Cole Gatewood, a Charleston District engineer, not only would fans have a less enjoyable
experience, but they would also be very confused. Why? Because Gatewood is the scoreboard operator for every UofSC home football game.
“I’m a fan and my wife is a UofSC graduate so we regularly went to home games,” said Gatewood. “[When I got this job before the 2012 season] my wife was very supportive of it. Tailgating is an all-day affair and we were ready for a break. The next year, our kids were born and she now enjoys watching the games from home and being with our daughters.”
On game day, Gatewood arrives at the stadium about two hours before kickoff. When he arrives, he goes into a meeting with the referees and representatives from each team, TV network and game day staff to go over the plan and synchronize the schedule. Then he starts a countdown clock on the scoreboard for exactly 90 minutes prior to kickoff. Gatewood sits in the press box at the 30 yard line on the home side with the public address announcer, sound control and marketing staff. Once the game starts, Gatewood has to lock in.
“I’m able to watch every play,” said Gatewood. “But, as soon as the ball is down, I have to key in the spot of the ball. I put in the side of the field and the yard line and the computer keeps track of the down and yards to go. There are several keystrokes for every play and I have to get them in as quickly as possible before the next play starts.”
He’s listening to his spotter on every play for the exact yard line of the ball. His spotter, fellow Charleston District employee Jason Hinton, calls out where the ball ends up so that Gatewood can mark it on the scoreboard and the PA announcer can call it out over the loudspeaker. If there is a turnover, a penalty, or if a team is playing quickly, things can get hectic. If instant replay changes the outcome of the play or the referee requests the game clock be reset, Gatewood has to make those corrections too.
“What’s been really eye-opening is being in the room and seeing the team that puts on all the production,” said Gatewood. “They get ready for this all week and I just come in and push buttons on a Saturday. You see a side of the event that you just don’t see as a spectator.”
The days were not as long when Gatewood worked at the Charleston District’s Fort Jackson Resident Office and lived in Columbia. He now lives in Goose Creek and works at the Construction and Survey Annex in Charleston, so his commute to the stadium is much longer.
“I’m away most of the day on a Saturday, so it can be tough, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Gatewood. “My kids are six years old and they know I’m at the games and in the press box. They like trying to find me on TV.”
For now, Gatewood loves getting to watch all the games and being an influential part of the team each week. He’s been able to meet interesting people and see the operation from a different perspective and plans to keep doing this for years to come.