“Newberry Defined My Life,” says SC Secretary of State Mark Hammond ‘86
by Randall Stewart, Director of Athletic Communications - June 10, 2019
Maybe it's a good thing that Banner Elk is so cold. Otherwise Mark Hammond may never have come to Newberry.
At his recent induction into the South Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Alumnus, Hammond joked about the difference between he and his brother, Vance, a two-time All-ACC defensive lineman that helped Clemson to 40 wins from 1987-90.
"He's 6'5" and I'm 6'0" and I tell everyone if I hadn't gone to Lees-McRae with it being so cold, I would be 6'5" because it stunted my growth."
Newberry College has that (dubiously) alleged stunted growth to thank for helping it land one of its most accomplished alumni. It also has a pair of assistant coaches that braved the cold and made a weeknight trip to see Lees-McRae, then a junior college, take on Appalachian State's JV team in Boone one Thursday in 1983.
Prior to that night, the Bobcats' final game of the season, Hammond hadn't received much interest from four-year institutions. A conversation with Coaches John Etter and Chris Worst put Newberry on his radar. Now, 36 years later, he recognizes the pivotal role that evening played in his life.
Hammond was convinced to visit campus, where he met with head coach Clayton Johnson. He laughed as he recalled the meeting.
"He said, 'Hammond, what will it take to bring you to Newberry College?' And I told him I didn't have a car but I thought my dad could bring me down. And he was actually offering me a scholarship! Can you believe that?
"I said, 'To play football? I'm sure I can get a ride.' "
That decision has impacted Hammond's life in immeasurable ways. As a defensive end, he helped Newberry to a 14-7-1 record over two seasons, including a 1985 win over defending NAIA national champion Carson-Newman at Setzler Field and an upset over Division I-AA Furman in Greenville that was the Paladins' only loss until the national championship game.
He is the fourth member of the 1984-85 teams to be inducted into the SAC Hall of Fame, following Jimmy Skipper, the late Rev. Eddie Taylor, and fellow Distinguished Alumnus Eric Wells.
Now South Carolina's Secretary of State, a position he has held since 2003, Hammond credits Johnson with helping shape his work ethic and love of public service.
"Newberry College defined my life. Coach Johnson always instilled in us that we needed to set goals, and I think the things he taught us as players and as men have been very beneficial in helping me achieve some of the positions I've been able to achieve and do some of the things I've been able to do."
That list of things Hammond has been able to do is quite long. He graduated from Newberry with a Political Science degree in 1986 and from Clemson two years later with a Masters of Education. He had been a criminal investigator and a juvenile probation officer in his hometown of Spartanburg, giving him experience in family court. When the Spartanburg County Clerk of Court retired in 1996, his mother urged him to run for the position, which he won.
Six years later, Hammond won statewide election to become South Carolina's 41st Secretary of State. He has since been reelected four times.
He describes his office's role as "integral in the transaction of business here in South Carolina," one that regulates activities like creating limited liability corporations, filing articles of incorporation and Uniform Commercial Codes, and registering charities. He takes great pride in the state's business climate, which has been ranked among the top eight most business-friendly states in America.
Its charitable donations are also a point of pride for Hammond. South Carolina is a top-five state in charitable giving despite being roughly in the middle of state population rankings, prompting Hammond to describe the Palmetto State as "a small state with a big heart." His annual Scrooges and Angels list promotes transparency among charities and helps South Carolinians ensure that their donations go to their intended causes.
His love of public service was instilled in him by his parents, a 30-year state trooper and the Spartanburg County personnel director. It was then cultivated by Newberry—Hammond was quick to heap praise upon Coach Johnson for his role in teaching him to set goals and to "play multiple positions" that have led to his revision of practices in the office and use of technology to streamline applications for business owners.
Political Science professor Dr. Robert Carley was also instrumental in Hammond's journey into local and state government. As the only professor in the department at the time, Dr. Carley helped shape Hammond's worldview and commitment to public servanthood.
Not everyone immediately recognized its importance, however. At last week's Hall of Fame banquet, Hammond shared a story of signing up for classes and being torn between Political Science and History. His friend David Rankin, who was going to major in Physical Education and is now an accomplished high school head football coach, asked him one evening what he'd decided to major in. Hammond told him Political Science. Rankin smiled and said, "Political Science? What are you gonna do, run for somethin' someday?"
Hammond knows that Newberry and the sport of football have been pivotal in shaping his life. He maintains he and his brother Vance have gotten to go places and accomplish things they'd never dreamt of because of their experiences on their respective campuses.
"I just really appreciate Coaches Etter and Worst driving up to Boone, North Carolina and scouting that game and calling me and asking me to come down for a visit, because it seems like that changed everything for me."