University of South Carolina

Rugby team boosts results in annual blood drive

By Marshall Swanson, University Magazine Group, 

The annual Carolina-Clemson Blood Drive is one of the largest collegiate donations of its kind in the country, generating more than 4,000 units of blood on the Columbia campus alone. 

A wide variety of people are responsible for the success of the effort, but special credit has to go to Jeff Smolka and the Carolina Rugby Team, which has lent an extraordinary level of support to the drive since 2001 when donations were hovering in the 1,800-unit range. 

"We've won the drive nine out of the 11 years that we've been involved, and our effort with the Sorority and Fraternity Council has significantly turned the event around," said Smolka, an information technology project manager with South Carolina Business One-Stop, an internet facing component of the S.C. Department of Revenue and other state agencies. "I attribute the turnaround to a lot of the camaraderie we've had with the folks that are leading the blood drive. The work we've been able to achieve with the steering committee has been significant. We've come up with some creative approaches to enable innovative ideas through the years."  

The rugby team, which recently celebrated its 45th anniversary on campus, became involved in the blood drive in 2000. Smolka, '88 and '90 masters, was ending a stint as the team's coach (he was a team member from 1984 to 1988) and was looking for ways to stay involved with the squad while also devoting more time to raising a family. 

The team decided to join the blood drive’s steering committee to help promote the drive within the university’s sports club community after realizing that Clemson had won the event in 11 out of its first 15 years. 

In the 12 years that followed, the team has always been represented on the steering committee along with 12 representatives of sororities and fraternities. 

The team's members love helping put up equipment needed for the drive on the night before the event and then taking it down and reloading it into Red Cross trucks on Friday night. 

In addition to serving on the organizational body of the blood drive, Smolka has also given blood himself every year since 2001 and donated as a student at the university. 

"It's a great opportunity to give back," he said, adding that this year, taking part in the drive is also an opportunity to help people in the Northeast affected by Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds of blood drives in the region were canceled because of the storm. 

As a result, a portion of the blood collected during the Carolina-Clemson Blood Drive will be used to help those needing blood transfusions in areas affected by the storm. The drive also will be a collection point for monetary donations from anyone who wants to reach out to hurricane victims. 

Beyond the needs posed by the storm, however, the Carolina-Clemson Blood Drive provides a good opportunity for everyone who can not only donate blood but also lead by getting involved in a service project, Smolka said. And it has been a great way for him to stay involved with the rugby team even while raising three kids. 

"The rugby teams doesn't want to just go to the university and ask about what it can do for us. We also want to lead by saying, 'Here's something we're doing for the university,'” he said.  “The rugby team wasn't asked to come up with a philanthropy project. We developed the idea, said we'd do it, and we're excited about being an integral part of it." 

The blood drive will save thousands of lives and touch untold numbers of others. 

"You've got a great rivalry and you're using it for a common good for the citizens of South Carolina, which is an awesome thing,” Smolka said. "I tell everybody that I get more out of doing this than I actually put into it. I love coming down to the campus and seeing the students and listening to their enthusiasm. It's invigorating and very fulfilling." 

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Posted: 11/14/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/14/12 @ 4:23 PM | Permalink