Annette Hoover’s wedding planning class at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management has been putting on weddings at no cost to a lucky bride and groom since 2001. The wedding started as an annual event but demand for the class and the chance to have a UofSC Love Story Wedding led to a change to once per semester. Still, each one offers something new, and the 26th ceremony was the first wedding ever hosted by Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies.
"I was a little bit leery to begin with when they mentioned where it was going to be, but it turned out neat," said UofSC alumnus and groom Mark Cain. “We're happy."
The students chose “The Perfect Catch” as the wedding theme, suiting the setting, and bride Tanya Flake said she loved the many touches added to fit the theme. "We had some candid pictures made with the bridesmaids throwing baseballs and acting like our bouquets were our bats,” she said. “We had a good time with it."
The bride and groom said they also enjoyed getting to know the students. The couple even went to the airport to see off student Kristin Daise, who was in the class, but deployed for military service before the wedding.
The groom and groomsmen emerged from the first base dugout for the ceremony at home plate, with the guests sitting in the stadium seats. The bridesmaids and bride processed out of the tunnel and through the third base dugout onto the field.
The reception followed at the Fireflies’ Club Lounge overlooking the field, as guests enjoyed food, drinks, dancing and baseball-themed decorations. As with all Love Story weddings, the bride and groom turned over all decision-making to the students in exchange for a completely free wedding, reception and honeymoon. Making It happen (and making it free) was up to the students.
"We had to go and find donors,” said student Anna Coats. “Especially for those like me who aren't used to going into businesses where we've never been before and asking for free stuff, it was really nerve-wracking… That's something I don't think is normal when you're planning a wedding.”
"It was a big time crunch also,” added student Emily Brucia. “Normally when someone plans a wedding it's over a year period. We did it within about two months."
The students agreed the task was sometimes difficult, but well worth the effort. "I think the big thing was stepping out of your comfort zone,” said Sai Kunamneni. “A lot of people who didn't really have experience with things in the past had to do things that they've never done. It was a really awesome learning experience."
The best moment, student Bryce Donnon said, “was just seeing it all come together, when I saw everybody dancing and really enjoying what our hard work had done."