Remember That Time: 1983 Balloon Launch

Its a funny thing, the Clemson of my father in the fifties, was entirely different from my Clemson in the eighties. Now, the next generation of our family is on campus experiencing their own Clemson in this new millennium. Despite the growth, the new buildings, increased enrollment, some things remain comfortably the same.

I was a Clemson junior in the fall of 1983. The NCAA had seen fit to place Clemson Football on Probation, super secret probation, for supposed numerous infractions. The punishment meant the team was unable to claim a conference championship, nor accept any bowl invitation. The 1983 season, ironically, was a stellar year for the team, compiling an impressive 9-1-1 record, ending the season ranked 11th in the final AP poll.

I was a Student Government Geek. My roommate was Student Body President, David Stalnaker. He is a great guy, brilliant and driven. Me not so much. Mark Wilson, like me, was a member of the cabinet. He was a” can do” guy from Greer, SC that could do anything. Between David’s vision and Mark’s can do drive, I knew anything could happen. Understanding the reality of a season without glory, Mark and his team came up with an idea, to break a world record. Seems simple enough, right?

Mark did research and came up with his choice, breaking the current record for a balloon launch. He presented his plan and ran with it. Before anyone knew it he had worked out the biggest hurdles to the project, feasibility, funding and logistics.

My role, was to coordinate publicity for what we imagined would be an impressive display, and that was easy. No one, with the exception of maybe David and Mark, could have foreseen the events of November 5, 1983, nor what it took to get there.

The entire idea was to “Rise Above” all the negatives associated with probation. The student body needed a way to let out the frustration of being a great team that could go nowhere. That was the purpose and the plan. It just took on a life of it’s on with Mark driving the train.

Every meeting prior to the launch, Mark and his team assured us it would all come together and it did. On that very cold November morning, in the wee hours of Launch Day, it was time. The coordination of students, throngs of students, blowing up countless orange balloons were there. The vendor that supplied the helium delivered and placed countless huge tanks in every conceivable space inside the stadium and I mean everywhere. Through hard work, by lots of folks, especially Mark and his team, IT happened.

Photo from 1983 balloon launch

As Coach Ford and his Tigers were at the top of the hill waiting for the cannon blast that signaled them to come down, the anticipation and excitement was palatable. It was in that moment, the enormity of what had been accomplished hit us all. The darkness created by the launching of 383,000 balloons, was symbolic of the dark cloud of probation.

It all gave way to the bright hopeful sunshine that shined through. Oh by the way, on that Saturday, the 17th ranked Clemson Tigers destroyed the 11th ranked Maryland Terrapins 52-27. Ironically, after the game, the Terps would be crowned the 1983 ACC Champs. Enough Said!

The original goal was to “Rise Above” all the negative and shine. I think anyone lucky enough to witness this spectacle, came away feeling the Clemson nation had indeed risen above and the was future bright. Game won, new world record established, and memories enough to last a lifetime. Just another day in Clemson.

Here is that entire 1983 game between Clemson and Maryland, including the record setting balloon launch.

And here is another look at the launch filmed from a helicopter. The launch takes place just before the eight minute mark.

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