The Palmetto State is home to:
▪ The Southeastern Conference’s — S-E-C, S-E-C! — University of South Carolina Gamecocks
▪ Last year’s national-championship-winning Clemson — Dabo! — Tigers
▪ And Beaufort County, which is home to over a dozen bona fide college football fan bases.
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We’re talking serious numbers: The 279 Clemson alumni on Hilton Head Island were outnumbered by those from Michigan State (392), according to 2016 data from the universities’ respective alumni associations.
There are almost 200 University of Michigan grads on the island, and the school’s local alumni club — which includes members from across the county — totals close to 400.
And there are almost 600 Ohio State alums between Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head. (There’s a joint on the island that looks like it was plucked from the streets of Columbus and deposited here, but we’ll come back to that.)
Yes, there are more than 4,000 University of South Carolina grads in the county, by far the most in the area. But college football fandom here is a melting pot with a Midwest flavor.
The Big Ten Conference, in particular, has quite a footprint, and some of its schools are well represented on local bar stools.
‘This happened by accident’
The toilets at Mangiamo’s Hilton Head Pizza Company need a paint job.
On the inside of each of the joint’s urinals and commodes is a yellow block “M” set against a navy-blue background.
A target for Ohio State Buckeyes fans.
“The men’s urinal stays pretty good,” Mangiamo’s owner Brian Bambeck said last fall. “It’s the toilets that take a beating.” Before the start of each season, Bambeck drains and dries the facilities and touches up the paint of the University of Michigan logos in their bowls.
On Saturdays in the fall, Mangiamo’s changes from an Italian eatery to a Buckeyes bar. The decor is all Ohio State, and the school’s local alumni chapter lists the restaurant as its official “game watch location.”
Bambeck expects about 200 scarlet-and-gray-clad fans to show up for Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green.
Six years ago, not long after the restaurant moved to its current location on Main Street, Bambeck unveiled the “Buckeye Room,” a private venue attached to the restaurant that hosts Ohio State watch parties.
“This wasn’t even in the thought process back (in 2002),” he said of the room. “This happened by accident,” he said, explaining he stumbled upon a niche market.
Hilton Head’s connection with Ohio is well documented.
In a May 2015 travel column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Susan Glaser offered a guide for first-time visitors to the island — even though, she joked, she might have been the only first-time visitor left from Ohio.
The Island Packet’s and The Beaufort Gazette’s own David Lauderdale wrote in January 2015 that area locals have gotten used to pulling for the Buckeyes — or at least Ohio State wallets — because of the island’s ties to the Midwest state.
“When I blow that thing, you’ll get some heads turning around,” Michigan alum and Hilton Head resident Bill Raisch said. “I assure you.”
That thing is the horn.
It’s black, plastic, more than three feet long and sports a couple Wolverines decals. There’s some yellow tape near the mouthpiece — the horn had to be reinforced, Raisch joked, because of all the touchdowns Michigan scores.
When Raisch and fellow members of the local alumni chapter gather at Mellow Mushroom on Hilton Head (and sometimes in Bluffton), they blow the horn and sing the fight song after each score.
About 15 people gather on an average football Saturday, though 30 to 40 might congregate for a big game against Michigan State or Ohio State.
“Obviously you’ll see a lot of Clemson,” Raisch said, referring to the fans he sees in the area. “And we see a bunch of Ohio State. ... South Carolina. Notre Dame. But I think the big ones, to me, would be Clemson, South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio State.”
In September 2016, the fourth annual Big Ten on Hilton Head picnic will be held at Honey Horn. Raisch said just under 90 people showed up for the first picnic.
In 2015, there were more than 200.
“It’s just kind of a nice gathering,” he said, when asked why the picnic started.
“It’s fellowship. ... It brings the Big Ten people together in SEC country.”