A Request To Expand The Sanford Stadium Experience

Brian Donegan is a Facebook friend of mine.  I know him to be active in the community and in politics, and I’ve seen him more than a few times at events.  Until recently I didn’t realize that he’s never seen me.  Brian is visually impaired.  We traded some messages after last week’s column about Lewis Grizzard and the Georgia Bulldogs.  He’s quite the fan, and asked if I would help him with a dream/idea he’s been chewing over.  I told him I don’t have that much pull in Athens, but we have an audience that may.  Below is Brian’s request, in his own words:

There is nothing like a College Football Saturday. It is the most unique and most special atmosphere and experience in all of sports. For me that means Athens and my beloved Dawgs ‘tween the Hedges. The sights, the sounds, the feels are like nothing else in existence. With nearly a hundred thousand gathered around Campus any given Saturday would you believe there are big fans that have never gotten to experience it? I was almost one of them.

Who I am isn’t important. This article isn’t about drawing attention to myself. The dream I have and its concept are much more important.

I am legally blind and have other disabilities. Still I’m a proud member of the Bulldog nation and have been since I was a young kid. Once I heard the voice of Larry Munson calling the action and the vivid paintings he created in my mind, I was hooked. Yet before 2010 I had never been to a game and since a special Dawg Day afternoon I haven’t been back. Not for lack of wanting to, but sitting amongst a sea of 90,000 screaming fans at a game I can’t really see is not an enjoyable experience. For me and many others with disabilities it just leads to uncomfortable sensory overload.

That magical day in 2010 was different. One of my best friends decided to pull a big Birthday surprise out of her hat for me. She drove me to Athens to tailgate on Homecoming Saturday. Then she put a ticket around my neck. Not just any ticket a VIP Suite ticket! She made sure I was front and center for the Dawg Walk. Then she took me down to the field before the game and I got to walk on the field, touch the hedges and the stadium grass meet the cheerleaders, high five Hairy etc. Then at gametime, I watched from a suite shielded from the noise with TVs showing the action and the radio call as audio so I knew what was occurring at all times. We rung the chapel bell together after a drubbing of Vanderbilt in the Athens sunshine.

No, I’m not asking for that experience again It was truly a once in a lifetime thing and I’m content with that. What I’m not content with is that there are no doubt die hard fans like me with disabilities who won’t have a similar experience due to the same factors that prevented me from going to a game in the first place. In fact, theirs should be even better than mine.

My dream is this: An existing suite could be donated by one or more of our fantastic corporations or a new one be constructed for the specific purpose of giving deserving fans with disabilities a VIP Gameday experience with family and friends in a safe enjoyable environment. Heck, even doing so once a season to get this off the ground would be fantastic. We could open it up to honor a disabled Veteran during a game around Veteran’s Day. What about giving the hopes of a child battling cancer at the AFLAC center a lift at an early season game in September, which is children’s cancer month?

College football Saturdays are special and have become tradition for many folks. Sometimes it might be taken for granted. Why can’t we open up our hearts to make sure some special folks get to experience it too? We don’t have to limit this to Athens. What about Tech? Bama? Clemson? Auburn? Tennessee? Let’s start a movement! What do ya say?

Goooo Dawgs! Sic ‘em! Woof Woof Woof!

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2 years ago

There are standards within the ADA that could be looked at to adjust a section. As a Title II owned structure, we could have the state ADA coordinator, which is part of GSFIC, evaluate possibilities. First we would need to make sure the stadium actually meets the minimum standards for visual impairments. Then we should evaluate what minimum standards for other types of impairments are available that can be used to benefit others with a disability. Example, audible requirements in large assemblies in the ADA include the availability of a number of head phones attached to the public audio system.… Read more »

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