This past Saturday, the Florida Gators took on the Vanderbilt Commodores at Steve Spurrier Florida Field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium AKA The Swamp™. At least one of these teams was playing the sport of football. The other team—hailing from Nashville, Tennessee—graciously offered themselves as an honored sacrifice to the Gods of Southern Football for our enjoyment. In what was the second most lopsided result in the history of the 53-game series, Florida beat Vandy by a score of 56-0.
But I’m not here to talk football. I want to tell you about a fan named Austin—also from Nashville—who, thanks to the generosity of the Gator Nation (and a few Miami and Florida State fans, too), got to live out his lifelong dream of watching his Gators play in The Swamp.
Austin was born with severe health conditions, and he’s lived with them ever since. With the support of his family, he has endured countless surgeries, stomach and kidney complications, strokes, seizures, ADHD, and various learning and speech disabilities. According to Austin’s Aunt, Kelsey, Gator football is the one thing that simultaneously commands his attention and calms him down (unless they are losing, that is). But he has never been to a game. That’s where we came in.
For The Gator Good
We (Anthony, Matt, Taylor, Jen, and Neil) are the Gator Good Foundation (@TheGatorGood on Twitter and GoFundMe), and we raise money so that we can share the unique experience of screaming at a group of sweaty college students with 90,000 other sweaty people in a building nicknamed The Swamp which was built in a literal swamp, with deserving fans who otherwise wouldn’t have this amazing opportunity. I swear that people do this voluntarily.
We are in our second year, and we definitely aren’t pros, so we’re still sort of figuring this whole thing out. Our name isn’t even original; #GatorGood is a recent fundraising campaign from UF, and I hereby declare that we will continue to use it until we get a Cease and Desist Order from the University.
Anyway, it all started before the 2018 football season when Anthony (@Mr_1_Bit) saw a post from a concerned mother on facebook. Her son Kentavian (Scoot), who volunteerd as a manager for his high school’s football team, was being bullied for his special needs. By players of the team he was volunteering for.
Despite living in Georgia, Scoot was a huge Gator fan. But he had never been to a game. Watching your favorite team play in their home stadium really is an amazing experience, but it can be incredibly cost prohibitive. Tickets to even a medium-profile college football game can exceed $100 for the “cheap” seats, and when you include the cost of travel, lodging, food, and the 67 gallons of Gatorade you will need to chug to stay alive in the swamps of North Central Florida, you can easily top out at $1000 for a weekend trip. And that doesn’t include overpriced and ~Officially Licensed~ college football souvenirs.
So Anthony took it upon himself and began raising money to get Scoot to The Swamp to watch his favorite team play in person for the first time. I joined him, and we started spreading the word. Donations and support quickly poured in, and a few months later, Scoot was in Gainesville with his family for an exclusive facilities tour, a pregame on-field visit, and a great view of the Gator’s comeback win against South Carolina.
Gator Good 2019
This year, we were blessed with three new members of the Gator Good team: Jen (@Jenafish17), Taylor (@Tayruf), and Neil (@AllKindsWeather). With the help of many generous college football fans, we raised over $2,000 to get Austin and Kelsey in Gainesville to watch the Gators dominate their (hated) hometown team from the cushiness of the club seats!
We also had what felt like a personal media entourage, but in reality was just one incredibly hard-working UF Journalism School student, Zach Oliveri (@Zach_Oliveri). He stuck with us all day long, lugging what seemed like 100 pounds of equipment all around campus and the stadium, so that he could put together this amazing story that aired on WUFT. We are incredibly thankful to Zach for his work.
Austin’s first visit to The Swamp was a huge success, and the Gator Good team played just a small part. We couldn’t have done it without the countless people who donated and shared Austin’s story. I wish I could thank every single one of you beautiful people in person, but instead I’ll just do it here: Thank you to every single person who donated to the campaign. Thank you to everyone who shared Austin’s story on social media. Thank you to the random fans that recognized us around campus and stopped to welcome Austin to The Swamp. Thank you to Taylor’s family for letting us crash their tailgate. Thank you to Steed Designs (@SeanSteed) for donating one of your cups to Austin, and for committing to donate to future candidates. Thank you to every player who stuck around after the game to sign autographs and take pictures with Austin. Thank you to Kelsey for loving and supporting Austin, and for being a great travel and gameday partner despite being 33 weeks pregnant! Thank you to James Houston IV and his parents, Sonia and James, for hosting us after the game. Thank you to Anthony, Taylor, Neil, and Jen for making the Gator Good family something truly special. But most of all, thank you to Austin for being such an amazing person!
We will be at it again next season, so please reach out to me if you know of a fan who deserves to see their favorite team (Your Florida Gators) play in Gainesville for the first time. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter (@TheGatorGood), and donate and subscribe to updates at our GoFundMe page. (We are still looking for a better way to display our progress, since the GoFundMe page only shows the total amount raised, and not the amount that we have available for any one season. Let me know if you have a better idea.)
As of this week, we’ve got two seasons under our belt. We’re still pretty new at this, but with all the support we get from the Gator Nation and the college football community, it’s pretty hard to screw this up. And besides, any day spent in Gainesville is a damn good day.