Blake Cordell makes friends wherever he goes.
Waiting to throw out the first pitch at a Carolina baseball game, the USC sophomore befriended the officials on the field and a group of senior citizens performing the National Anthem.
The fellows talked strategy and mechanics and wished Cordell luck as he headed for the mound. Atop the hill, Cordell paused to soak in the moment and then fired the ball.
“I didn’t try anything fancy,” Cordell admitted.
With a wave to the crowd it was over.
“I felt like I belonged out there,” he smiled.
Cordell’s likability is one of the reasons he was selected by the South Carolina Education Lottery, a sponsor of Gamecock athletics, to throw out the first pitch. That’s not the only reason.
Cordell is a LIFE scholarship recipient.
He threw the ball in recognition of the more than one million lottery-funded scholarships awarded to deserving South Carolina students since the Lottery started a decade ago.
The Spartanburg native was a fourth grader when the first lottery ticket was sold back in 2002. He worked hard in school and earned a lottery scholarship and a prestigious naval scholarship.
“The lottery scholarship has meant a lot,” Cordell said.
He uses the funds to offset his housing costs.
“Without it, I would have to take out more loans, and that would diminish my chance of success,” he said. He’s heard his friends in naval ROTC and in his fraternity say they might not be at Carolina without their lottery scholarships.
To date, USC students have been awarded in excess of 138,000 lottery-funded scholarships valued at over $532 million.
As a beneficiary, Cordell is determined to make the most of his opportunity. He swells with pride speaking of his spot on the Gamecock Battalion, the third best battalion in the nation. Upon graduation, he’ll receive a reserve commission in the United States Navy or Marine Corps and serve a minimum of four years. The economics major is on track to be an officer with plans to be a pilot in the Navy.
Cordell is also a Phi Sigma Kappa member and serves as the Vice President of Recruitment on fraternity council. It is there where his charisma impressed Anna Edwards, the Director of Student Services at USC.
She observed he wasn’t afraid to speak up, certainly was not shy, and was confident in his beliefs.
“His peers respond to him,” Edwards said. “Blake represents what we want all the young men coming to Carolina to be like. He brings a sense of determination that makes him a great leader.”
She chose Cordell to throw out the first pitch on behalf of the Lottery. When she called to tell him, she woke him on the one morning he gets to sleep in from his naval ROTC commitments.
Most mornings Cordell is up at 5:30 a.m. running. Then it’s off to lab followed by class. He finishes the day studying at the library.
“I have to work hard to keep the scholarship. It’s not easy. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them,” Cordell said.
A failing grade in calculus his freshman year humbled him. USC’s grade forgiveness program, which gives students a second chance, allowed him to retake the class. He made a B and got to keep his scholarship. He joined a study group and has found that to be a big help.
“I’m busier than most people I know,” he said. “But I’m having the time of my life.”
In a couple of years, Cordell will be the first in his immediate family to graduate from college.
He’ll take with him fond memories of USC, like the football game where he presented the colors, combining his love of country and love for his school. Then there will be the story of the day he stood on the mound where back-to-back National Champions trod and threw out the first pitch.
“I love the Lottery,” he said tossing his souvenir ball in the air. “If you don’t want to help deserving people, then don’t play.”
He’s grateful for those who took a chance so he could have one.