Donald Bailey, '71: Going the Extra Yard
Donald Bailey, ’71, once returned a kick 90 yards for the Carolina football team, but he didn’t score.
While he may have come up short of the end zone on that occasion, he has more than hit “pay dirt” with
his commitment to his alma mater, his family and the community through his efforts to create post-secondary educational opportunities for those with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
“The University gave me the opportunity to get my education through a football scholarship,” Bailey
says. “I love this University. I would not have had the opportunity to go to college without that
scholarship. I just feel like I needed to give back. That’s what it all boils down to.”
In addition to being a Life Member of My Carolina and serving as its president in 1989, Bailey also
served as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1990-1998. After what he called a “six-year journey,” he founded the nonprofit organization, College Transition Connection.
History on the Gridiron
Bailey grew up on John’s Island, just outside of Charleston, SC, and came to Carolina in 1967 on a
football scholarship as a defensive back under Coach Paul Dietzel. After playing on the freshman team,
Bailey played three years on the varsity in 1968, ’69 and ’70. In addition to winning the 1969 ACC
Championship, he has many on-the-field memories.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention beating Clemson every year,” Bailey says. “Those were great
memories that I certainly cherish because not many people can say that. In 1968 when we played North
Carolina, I ran a kickoff back 90 yards. I didn’t score. I got tackled at the 10-yard line because I
made the mistake of looking back to see where that last guy was. I’ve dreamed about that thing at
least 500 times over the last 40 years, and in my dreams I scored every time.”
Bailey still stays in touch with former teammates and enjoyed a 40-year reunion a couple of years ago
for that championship team. While memories of the 1969 ACC Championship are certainly among the
highlights of his playing career, it’s the individual relationships of which he is most fond.
“It was just a great experience,” Bailey says. “The friends you make over the years are such a big
part of it. You grow together. The games were fun, particularly the ones we won. I wasn’t a star or
anything like that, but football shaped my life and it shaped who I am today probably. It taught me so
much about discipline and so much about what’s important: family, and doing things for other people.
Coach Dietzel was really big on doing things for the community and giving back. I think it must have
rubbed off on me a little bit because what we’ve done at the University and around the state (with
College Transition Connection) has been very rewarding.”
With his playing days behind him, Bailey still comes to Carolina football games often and takes pride
in where the football program and the athletics department are in 2012.
When he wasn’t playing football, Bailey enjoyed what he learned outside of the classroom.
“I’ve got to go back to the friendships,” Bailey says. “In addition to the academics, what’s so great
about college is the social life. It was the independence. It was learning about community. It was
about understanding how the world really works. That’s what college education was to me, and we can
give back to a lot of these young people who academically may not be able to perform, but they can
certainly gain through all of those other extracurricular things that I think are so important.”
After graduating with a degree in marketing, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he claims he was
“I started in the life-insurance business right out of college,” Bailey says. “That moved into the
financial planning industry, which was really just getting started back in the ‘70s. As a result of
that, I’m still in the financial business as an independent investment advisor for my own firm, Donald
Bailey and Associates of Charleston.”
Donald and his wife, Caroline, have two children; Carrie and Donald, Jr. His son has a cognitive
disability and therefore has special needs. While his son was in high school, Donald had an idea that
would shape his future, as well as that of many others.
“When he was in high school, we said, ‘What is he going to do?’” Donald says. “This young guy doesn’t
qualify as a typical college student, so he’s not going to get a high-school diploma. What’s he going
to do? Where’s he going to go?”
According to the College Transition Connection website, 92% of adults with intellectual disabilities
are not employed, and research indicates that students with intellectual disabilities who have some
type of post-secondary experience are much more likely to obtain competitive employment, require fewer
supports and earn higher wages.
Because of that, he began conducting research, which led him to form the nonprofit organization called
College Transition Connection. After approaching the legislature in 2006, Donald was able to get an
appropriation. He created a round table to which 70 colleges were invited, focusing on a movement
around the country that provides post-secondary education for kids with intellectual disabilities.
“We put together a proposal, and representatives from 12 colleges came to the meeting and two
responded,” Bailey says. “The University of South Carolina was the first to respond, which obviously
pleased me, and then Clemson came in the next semester. Today we have Carolina LIFE, which stands for
Learning Is For Everyone, Clemson LIFE, Coastal Carolina LIFE, the College of Charleston has a program
they called REACH, and Winthrop has a program as well. So we now have five programs around the state
that are now accepting young people with intellectual disabilities to go to college.”
This innovative two-to-four-year, post-secondary program offers students with intellectual or
cognitive disabilities a chance to experience college life through inclusive participation in
academic, social, vocational and independent-living activities. The program is based on the needs,
interests, and preferences of the student.
One of the things that became obvious early was that the program was going to be expensive.
“It got to where we found that there were so many families who simply couldn’t afford it or didn’t
plan for it because they never thought their child would have this opportunity to have the college
experience,” Donald explains.
Somewhere along the way, Donald was convinced he needed to write a book about it to help bring
awareness to all five programs. All proceeds from the book will go to scholarships and will be
distributed among the five programs. One-fifth of the proceeds go to the Frank and Frankie McGuire
Scholarship for the program at Carolina.
The book, Life: Learning Is For Everyone, is available at Amazon.com.
Donald, Jr., graduated from the Carolina LIFE program in May 2011. Not only did he graduate, but he’s
the first graduate in the state of South Carolina that went to one of these programs, and he walked at
graduation alongside all of the other graduates of the University of South Carolina.
“This not only meant so much to me, but it also meant so much to him,” Donald says.
coming back to campus and reminiscing about his college days. But make no mistake, seeing his son
graduate is better than his favorite football memory of running the kickoff 90 yards.
“What’s better is that this time, we didn’t get tackled. We scored.”