For many student-athletes, there is something special about their time spent at Clemson University. From the passion of playing their sport to the bonds they formed with teammates, Clemson has for years provided a unique environment that compares to none other. These bonds and relationships were so powerful for Charlie Bussey, who played quarterback for the Clemson football team from 1953-1957, and his friends that they decided to form the Tiger Letterwinners Men’s Association in the 1970s. This association was designed to promote fellowship among student-athletes and to promote Hall of Fame nominees. Bussey would serve as the association’s first president, an accomplishment he cherishes to this day.
Bussey was a standout athlete for Clemson. Recruited by several universities, he decided to join the Tigers after visiting the campus.
“I visited Clemson and, I think I am typical in what happens to many athletes and many students,” said Bussey. “If we can get you on campus and let you take a look at what we have to offer, physically, but also let you meet the people. That is the selling point. If we can let you meet the Clemson people, plus the location and the facilities, we have you hooked then. That’s what happened to me.”
As captain of the 1956 football team, Bussey led his team to the Orange Bowl where they faced Colorado. While the Tigers fell short to the Buffalos, suffering a 27-20 loss, they had accomplished the goal set forth during his freshman year. As the first freshman class to play in the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference, it was the goal of the 1953 team to win the ACC Championship four years later. The team did just that.
“We won the ACC Championship, and played Colorado in 1957, and got beat,” Bussey said “but at least we played the game and that was the important thing.”
As a newly graduated textile major, Bussey joined the Air Force where he spent eight and half years as a pilot. Later he worked for a glass company, Laurens Glass, before eventually working in the field of textiles for the last 15 years of his business career.
Upon retiring from the business world in 1997, Bussey moved back to his alma mater. He began working part time with Clemson University and the association he and some of his teammates started in the 1970’s, the Tiger Lettermen’s Association. The association would soon change its name and become the Tiger Letterwinners Association. Bussey has been a part-time employee of Clemson University and has assisted the Executive Director of the Tiger Letterwinners Association ever since.
For Bussey and his teammates, the Tiger Letterwinners Association has helped foster and support the bond they already shared.
Bussey stated, “I think the organization has fostered camaraderie and school spirit. We say Clemson people are different and we are different. We are proud of that difference. It is a big family. You never outgrow it. You always want to be connected to people 30 years younger than you or 30 years older than you. You want to stay in touch and I think the Letterwinners Association does a nice job keeping us in touch.”
In looking back on his time at Clemson, Bussey recalled the atmosphere and the people as his fondest memories.
In describing these great memories, Bussey listed “winning the ACC Championship, going to the Orange Bowl, and having close ties to the 4000 members of the student body. You knew everybody. You went home with them, you double dated with them, and you went to their home and spent the night with them on the weekends. The family relationship is strong today. I think it may have been stronger 50 years ago.”
To this day, Bussey is still helping to provide and foster the Tiger Letterwinners Association and support the athletic department in numerous ways. For Bussey, he happily supports the Clemson Athletic Department and believes in not only the athletic teams but their commitment to people.
“We are a great university today. We do a lot of things that athletics is involved in that people don’t expect. For example, I like to tell everyone about a program called Clemson LIFE (Learning Is For Everyone). Kids with intellectual disabilities, after high school, can come to Clemson and be taught to live independently. They live with the regular students. They go to classes with their peer-students and they have some classes with student-athletes,” stated Bussey.
These students are taught to be self-sufficient and to support themselves. Two of these students are currently managers for Clemson varsity teams.
According to Bussey, that is the thing about which he is the proudest. “A lot of schools have great football teams. A lot of schools have great baseball and basketball teams. Our women’s track team has won the ACC Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Championship four years in a row. In my opinion, the thing that sets Clemson University apart from the rest is a program like Clemson LIFE. You can be great on the field, but you can also be great off the field.”
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