NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sports has always had the unique ability to connect generations in perhaps the most unconventional of ways.
That will hold true at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday when the Vanderbilt football team plays South Carolina inside Williams-Brice Stadium. Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt’s athletics director, will be in attendance to cheer on the Commodores on the very same campus his mother made history at more than 55 years ago.
Dr. Henrie Monteith Treadwell was one of the three students to lead the desegregation of the University of South Carolina on Sept. 11, 1963. Now she and Turner will watch Vanderbilt and South Carolina square off in a pivotal Southeastern Conference matchup this weekend.
“I have certainly given it a great deal of thought,” Treadwell told VUCommodores.com this week. “I can’t explain it. It is a wonderful feeling that somehow the past has circled all around and here we are at Carolina, me and my son, on different sides of the fence – but at the same time on the same side of the fence. So it’s fun.”
This won’t be the first South Carolina football game Treadwell has seen live. As the story goes, Treadwell returned to the University of South Carolina in 2013 for an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of her historic courage in 1963.
Then-USC coach Steve Spurrier came to that event and personally invited Treadwell to a game. He also gave her a signed football and South Carolina football helmet.
The Gamecocks’ opponent that week in September of 2013? Vanderbilt.
Treadwell, now a research professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1965 and became the first African American to do so since 1877. At Saturday’s game she’ll be sitting in the visitor’s AD box and admittedly will split her allegiances.
“I’ll probably sneak in a Gamecock thing in here or there, but nothing too obvious,” she laughed.
Turner has often spoken of his mother’s example as an influence on his pursuit of education. Treadwell has a master’s degree in biology from Boston University, a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Atlanta University and has completed post-doctoral studies in public heath at Harvard.
Treadwell received the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Service Award in 2006 and has also been given the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Faculty Fellowship Award. In 2018 she returned to her alma mater to speak to South Carolina students about her experiences.
“She’s the one who taught me to not just have a high standard for excellence,’’ Turner told The Athletic in October, “but a high stamina for excellence.’’
Turner became Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director in December to succeed David Williams. The former president of the NBA’s G League, Turner officially began ushering in a new era of Vandy athletics Feb. 1.
Treadwell said she couldn’t be more excited for the next chapter of her son’s life.
“Malcolm is a very energetic person who has the ability to look beyond the horizon and then to determine the paths that need to be taken in order to achieve the ultimate goal, which is excellence everywhere,” Treadwell said. “We know we can always reach further, stretch ourselves a bit more and I think – I don’t think, I know – that Malcolm has the capability of continuing to lead and to work with others to achieve the ultimate goals of the Vanderbilt family and Vanderbilt University.”