Ben Atkinson played with a lot of passion while helping the South Carolina men’s tennis program reach four NCAA Tournaments during his career with the Gamecocks from 2001-05. He still holds that desire for success with the Gamecock program, but the untimely death of his younger brother, Tom, in a car accident in 2005 ignited a new passion to help others.
“Tom got into the wrong car with the wrong person,” Atkinson said. “The driver survived. It was life-changing. I had planned to take a job in Florida shortly after my internship had finished with the Charlotte Bobcats. Once I left the country, my VISA became void and I obviously wanted to be at home with my family and friends. This has made me the person I am today and certainly puts life into perspective. I hope what we have done as a charity has helped save lives and not put people in the position me and my family were in.”
Atkinson started the Take One Moment Foundation, also known as the TOM Foundation, in honor of his brother to promote road safety. Since then he has assisted in raising money for the foundation.
“We hold events throughout the year to raise money towards different campaigns,” Atkinson explained. “There is an annual winter ball, golf events and tennis events. I have also taken part in some different challenges such as the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, the Manchester 10k run, and this year will be my third ‘Tough Mudder’ race. The charity started to try and do something positive in his name. We are entering our 10th year and have big links with the fire service, Safer Roads Humber, and the police.”
Now an elementary school teacher in his home of Yorkshire, England, the 32 year old still enjoys being a part of the Gamecock program. Last spring Atkinson wrote a letter to the team as it prepared for the NCAA Tournament, hoping he could inspire South Carolina to advance in the postseason for the first time since his senior year of 2005 when he helped the Gamecocks reach the “Sweet 16.”
“I had been in touch with head coach (Josh) Goffi via Twitter and on email,” Atkinson said. “I enjoy seeing how the team is getting on throughout the season and really just sent coach a good luck message during the NCAA tournament. He asked me to send over an email that he could read to the team. I suppose I hoped that I could play a small part in it all again. I just told them about the feeling when we won and that any pain on court was going to be worth it in the end.”
The 2014 Gamecocks would advance out of the first round with a 4-1 win over George Washington University before falling in the second round.
Atkinson knows all about the sacrifice it takes to push through adversity on the tennis court, having missed the fall season of his senior year after off-season shoulder surgery. He was a strong contributor during the spring season of 2005 and won the decisive match that helped the Gamecocks advance past the second round of the national tournament that year.
“I suppose clinching and helping the team to reach the ‘Sweet 16’ was in some way thanks to everyone who helped me through that process and made the months doing rehab with the trainers worth it in the end,” Atkinson said. “I took a lot of pride representing my university. I think this showed when I was on court, and I will always be a Gamecock through and through.”
Four trips to the postseason are among the many memories Atkinson has from his career in the garnet and black.
“I had many great memories on and off the court,” Atkinson said. “Beating Clemson 7-0 my freshman year was a great experience, and beating Georgia my senior year was also pretty special. The best experience was qualifying as a team for the ‘Sweet 16.’ The whole weekend was a rollercoaster. It came down to my match on a final set tie-break, and I just didn’t want it to be my final match. I will never forget the feeling after the final point and running over to my teammates.”
My four years flew by very quickly and being part of a team and contributing to something greater than just my result was a great feeling. Everything Coach Goffi is doing is building towards a big-time program, both on and off the court.
“Although my playing days are long gone at South Carolina, I would give anything for another season as part of that team. It meant a lot to play for the University and I loved competing with those guys.”
Atkinson had high expectations when he was recruited by former head coach Kent DeMars, and he was not disappointed in the educational and athletic experience he found at South Carolina.
“Playing in the SEC was a massive draw for me,” Atkinson said. “I wanted to try and compete against the best in the country and have a chance to go somewhere as a team. The facilities and size of the athletics department were also a huge pull. I arrived on a very small scholarship, but I wanted to try and work my way into the team and earn something better, which I was able to do after my sophomore year.
“Another deciding factor in coming to South Carolina was the Sports & Entertainment Management program, as it was a pioneering program and was setting the trend when I joined.”
That connection was further enhanced after receiving a lot of supportive well wishes from the university, and Dr. Tom Regan (from Sport and Entertainment Management) following his brother’s death. Atkinson spent several years coaching and as a tennis development officer before switching gears to become a teacher. Coupled with his philanthropic efforts, his new career hasn’t left as much time for tennis.
“When I re-trained as a teacher, my rackets started gathering some dust, but hopefully they will make a return this year,” Atkinson said.
Catching up with former teammates and coaches living in different countries isn’t easy, but he does what he can to stay in touch.
“It is nice to see what some of the guys are getting up to on Facebook, but I have not seen any of them since I left America,” Atkinson said. “Although, I met up with Coach DeMars, before he retired, at Wimbledon while he was over on a recruiting trip. I speak, via email, to our (former) assistant coach Jeff Kefalos throughout the year about tennis things and Gamecock athletics.”
For the time being, Atkinson enjoys life with his wife, Charlotte, and is happy to show his support for Coach Goffi and the Gamecocks.
“I will be dropping Coach (Goffi) a good luck message this season and look forward to seeing how they get on,” Atkinson said. “Each year they seem to be building and getting better. My four years flew by very quickly and being part of a team and contributing to something greater than just my result was a great feeling. Everything Coach Goffi is doing is building towards a big-time program, both on and off the court. I love his drive and high expectations for himself and his team.”
Atkinson hopes to be able to make a trip back to South Carolina in the near future to meet the coaches and current student-athletes, while also showing off his alma mater.
“The new tennis facility looks outstanding,” Atkinson said. “I have so many great memories and would love to show my wife around the place, meet Coach Goffi and catch up with Coach DeMars and Jeff Kefalos. You never know; it might be in time with the tennis season, too. It would be cool to take her to a football game and introduce her to tailgating and ‘Sandstorm.'”