Athletes are a superstitious bunch. Whether it’s baseball players not washing their socks or golfers using special coins as ball marks, competitors from amateur leagues to the professional ranks are always looking for any extra bit of luck that will secure success.
It’s no different in the Lowcountry, of course, where preps and pros alike have peculiar ways of ensuring good fortune.
On Friday nights in the fall, Wando High School’s Christian Rathbone is a menace on the football field. The rising senior, a middle linebacker, has an in-your-face style when it comes to the game.
It’s a different scene, however, on the bus ride to games. That’s when, Rathbone says, he turns to a higher power, reading scripture and saying prayers.
“It gets me ready,” Rathbone says gravely. “And prepared.”
Closer to game time, Rathbone joins his teammates in several more raucous traditions, including kicking a sign under the goal post and going through a drill that includes each player hitting his helmet and knees and yelling “hooah!”
The pièce de résistance of the Warriors’ pre-game rite, though, is when, just before kickoff, the team captain comes out to midfield and jabs a large spear into the ground.
The reaction to that move borders on pandemonium.
“Everybody gets crazy and goes wild,” Rathbone says.
The College of Charleston baseball team is off to a hot start this season, and that could have something to do with an undershirt.
The Cougars have the option of wearing gold or burgundy garments under their jerseys, and junior second baseman Jesse Mesa opted for the former during an early-season game.
He went 0-for-3.
Following that performance, Mesa switched to the burgundy undershirt and went 2-for-2 the next time out. Now he’s sporting the color full time.
“I’m officially never going to wear the gold shirt. I feel maybe that was the problem,” Mesa says. “I’ll never use gold again.”
Mesa also touches his chest, kisses his fingers, and “points to God” before each at-bat and after a hit or walk, a move he started in high school.
“I might as well give God thanks for everything,” Mesa says.
Mesa’s teammates have traditions of their own. One writes his number in the batter’s box before each at-bat, while junior outfielder Jose Rodriguez goes through the same five-stretch routine in the on-deck circle.
“I did it once in high school, and it went well, so I stuck with it,” says Rodriguez, who also enters the box, digs in, and spins his bat the same way every time.
Now the routine is a must when he’s stepping up to the plate.
“I feel off when I don’t get a chance to do it,” Rodriguez says.
Not everyone in the Holy City is looking to the heavens for the luck, though.
The bad girls of the Lowcountry HighRollers attempt to sway fate through a variety of, er, more coarse means.
“I always listen to Pantera,” says the delicately monikered Vulva Display of Power. “Only you lust for blood afterward.”
Perhaps sentiments like that are to be expected from a group of more than two dozen women who like to strap on roller skates and bash their opponents. And, really, clobbering others probably doesn’t breed the best karma. So, understandably, the team will take what they get in terms of luck.
Yet despite their penchant for brutality, the HighRollers remain ladies, as evidenced by team co-founder Wendy Jernigan.
“I’m not very superstitious,” says Jernigan, who goes by the handle Red Dread. “But my personal rituals include wearing my sexiest hot pink thongs. They seem to bring me luck.”
Luck on Ice
Few things are as important in hockey as a hot goaltender.
If your team’s net-minder is in the zone, they’ve always got a chance. If he’s letting in goals that are as soft as Red Dread’s thongs, they’re toast.
South Carolina Stingrays goalie Shane Connelly likes to stay in the zone by keeping his pre-game routine the same. Connelly has Italian food for lunch, naps from 2 to 4, then heads to the arena, where he tapes his sticks, stretches, and sits in the stands for 15 minutes before going to a team meeting.
After the meeting, he warms up, and when the countdown clock hits 40 minutes, he starts dressing, putting everything on from left to right.
“There’s a lot of comfortability in doing things the same way on game days,” Connelly says.
During the game Connelly avoids touching the blue line and makes sure to tap the posts when returning to the crease after leaving the net.
“[Tapping the posts] is just a reminder that you’re back in the net and getting focused,” Connelly says.
Connelly’s reaction to having his pregame routine mussed has mellowed over time. In juniors he was “kind of all over the place mentally” if he wasn’t able to complete every step. Now he says he’s learned to adapt.
Ultimately, Connelly says, sports aren’t determined by superstitions; success is based on skill and preparation. Still, he concedes, it’s better to be lucky and good.
“You need a little luck,” he says. “Most of it’s skill, but you’re going to need some luck on your side at some point, so you do these things that will give it to you.”