Pre-game pep rally Aiken families prepare for Palmetto Bowl with local block party Friday

Staff photo by Christina Cleveland From orange and purple to black and garnet, several families dressed in team colors came out to the first Palmetto Bowl block party held in Aiken Friday.

Roger Gray’s 13-year-old son, Blaise, is pretty upset about the Gamecocks this year.

Blaise has always been a fan of the University of South Carolina’s football team and his sister, Skylar, has followed suit, but this season didn’t go as he had hoped, like when his favorite Gamecock player Connor Shaw played for the team.

While playing with his siblings at the inaugural Palmetto Bowl Block Party in Aiken on Friday, Blaise didn’t seem too confident that Saturday’s rival game against the Clemson Tigers will end in victory for South Carolina.

“We’re going to lose,” Blaise said, “by a lot.”

That prediction didn’t stop him from wearing his favorite Gamecock gear, however.

Roger Gray and his friend, Derrick Turner, only root for Clemson and neither are sure why the kids like garnet and black so much.

“They got bumped on their head,” Turner said, jokingly.

The block party, held in the festival area of Newberry Street, allowed friends and family like Turner and Gray to join together a day ahead of the game and enjoy the friendly rivalry, food, chidlren’s games and music.

The event was put on by the Aiken Drug Company and Aiken and Augusta radio stations of Beasley Media group. Several musical acts from local Beth Spangler to Phillip Lee Jr. and electronic band, Five Knives Band, hit the stage to perform for around 200 people – most of which were donning their favorite team’s colors.

Amy Najmon was tricked into her garnet sweater, she said. Najmon didn’t grow up in South Carolina nor did she attend either of the rival schools. She moved to Aiken with her husband after graduating from school last year and came to the block party with her friends Jason Hadden and Kayla Barton.

“I went to Purdue. She just suckered me into this,” Najmon said pointing at her garnet sweater and then Kayla.

The three said they were enjoying the party, which went from the 5 to 10 p.m. on the blocked off street but had a little more to see, only an hour into sampling food and listening to live music.

“I heard about it on the radio and we got our tickets earlier today,” Barton said. “We’re enjoying it but we just got here, so we’re testing it out.”

Mark Haddon, Beasley’s Aiken-Augusta market manager, said in a statement ahead of event that it was designed to be a great way to break up the Thanksgiving weekend.

“We are excited to bring together Clemson and USC fans for what we hope will be one of the largest pre-game pep rallies in the state,” Haddon said.

For Elaine Ormand’s family, it doesn’t take too much to get them pumped up.

They’ve made a tradition out of the game and watch with it family and friends after steaming some oysters each year.

Ormand said she has a son-in-law, who is a “big Gamecock fan,” though she and her husband are Clemson alums. It’s a house divided, but it’s not rocked too much during college football season.

“We do OK,” Ormand said. “It’s just a game.”

Still, for Saturday’s game, she’s not shy to root for the Tigers. Ormand predicts Clemson to win by 15.

Plenty of South Carolina and Clemson predictions – and shared stories – floated among the families at the block party, like those from Turner, who graduated from USC, but said “he was born and raised” a Tiger.

“It just ended up that I was able to go to Carolina and finish my degree,” Turner said. “I’ll pull for Carolina … if I have to.”

A portion of the proceeds from Friday’s event benefit the Aiken County Clemson and the Aiken County Gamecock Club Scholarship Funds.

Christina Cleveland is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaNCleve.

Christina Cleveland is a reporter with the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since October 2015. A native of Seneca, South Carolina, she holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.