It’s an experience Danny Hayes will never forget.
Hayes, superintendent of Whitfield County Schools, had his first brush with professional football greatness in 1968 when the NFL’s Green Bay Packers came to old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to play the Atlanta Falcons. Legendary quarterback Bart Starr was leading the team in the first year after the retirement of fabled head coach Vince Lombardi.
“I will never forget it,” Hayes said of his brief encounter with Starr. “It was after the game and I yelled at him and he pointed at me and said, ‘Hey, boy,’ and I will never forget it. On Monday, a lot of the area’s kids will have an opportunity of a lifetime to see the same athletes they watch on television on Sundays.”
The Atlanta Falcons, with stars Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, and the Tennessee Titans, featuring Matt Hasselback, Nate Washington and Chris Johnson, will hold a combined practice Monday at Coahulla Creek High School in an event that has taken on a life of its own in Whitfield County. Billed as “Falcons Football Night in Dalton” on the Falcons’ website (www.atlantafalcons.com), the event has seen multiple governmental organizations and multitudes of local volunteers come together for a “happening” unlike any other in recent memory.
“It has been a lot of logistics and a lot of planning, but it is exciting,” Hayes said. “Anytime you can bring two professional football teams together and expose people to something they have never seen before, it is exciting. This is a community that is centered around its sports teams, and it is really a thrill for everyone that I have talked to.”
Those community sports teams will also benefit from the event. Even though the practice is free and open to the public, the athletic programs at Coahulla Creek, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield will split revenues from concessions with an estimated crowd of 6,000 to 10,000 expected. Norcross High made an estimated $18,000 off of a Falcons scrimmage last year, Hayes said.
“The big thing about the scrimmage is it’s not going to cost anything and the concessions will be split through the three athletic departments,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “We would appreciate it if people would come out and eat a hamburger, buy a drink and all of the proceeds will be split equally through the schools.”
Also, Whitfield County Schools will benefit from a ticket deal the Falcons are allowing the system to offer for games against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 30 and the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 14. Tickets are available for $10 off of upper end zone seats and $18 off of upper sideline seating. Individual tickets will be sold for those two games at $45 for end zone and $67 for sideline with the schools getting $10 from each ticket sold.
“It’s cheaper than going through Ticketmaster or the Falcons, and it comes back home here,” said Robinson, who is also a Falcons season ticket holder. “It is a good deal for the public, the Falcons and us.”
As a final fundraising effort for local schools by the Falcons, each school will get signed Atlanta memorabilia that can be auctioned.
In addition to the two teams, there will be inflatables for the kids, vendors associated with the teams and the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders will entertain the crowd.
Hayes has a relationship with the Falcons through his friendship with head coach Mike Smith. The two coached together earlier in their careers at Tennessee Tech from 1986 to 1990, and have maintained their association over the years. Hayes went to the Falcons’ “Friday Night Lights” event last August in Norcross in metro Atlanta. Afterward, he met with Smith and asked what it would take to get an evening in Whitfield County. Smith told Hayes that the Falcons were going to keep their Friday Night Lights events centered around metro Atlanta — Peachtree Ridge in Gwinnett County hosted the event on Friday — and Hayes never thought anything else of it.
That changed three months ago when Hayes said Smith called and asked if there was any interest in hosting a scrimmage. Hayes jumped at the opportunity. In planning the scrimmage and practice with the Tennessee Titans, Whitfield County was a natural location for the Falcons to hold the event since it is roughly midway between the two teams’ base of operations.
Since then, planning has been a logistical challenge. Falcons officials visited Whitfield County earlier this year and said the facilities at the newly opened school near Varnell were perfect to host the Falcons and the Titans. However, because of the school’s isolated location with access to one road in and one road out as well as limited parking at the school, coordinating the event has taken plenty of planning.
Parking for the day’s activities will be in the fields near Prater’s Mill and at Edwards Park off of Cleveland Highway. Only those with handicapped needs and local volunteers who will be working the event will be allowed to park at the school. Parking locations will open at 2:30 p.m. with 15 shuttle buses beginning their runs at 3 p.m. The gates to the stadium will open at 3:30, and the teams will begin their practice at 4:30. Shuttle buses will run continuously throughout the evening.
The Falcons and Titans are expected to arrive at Coahulla Creek around 3 p.m., and the event is scheduled to end around 7 p.m. with an autograph session after the practice lasting “10 to 15 minutes,” according to Hayes.
Fans will be allowed to bring chairs for the event as seating will likely be at a premium. At last year’s Friday night event at Norcross, officials estimated 6,000 fans showed up. Coahulla Creek Principal Phillip Brown said while the practice will take place on both the football field and the baseball field, seating at the football stadium is 4,400 and there are two sets of bleachers at the baseball field.
“It will be very tight, but everyone will be able to see some action with two different venues going at the same time,” Brown said. “We are all excited, and the next night we will be playing our scrimmage game, and I am wondering how much we can pile up on ourselves. We will make do and persevere. The opportunity that our students and this community will have is just outstanding.”
The Colts, who will play their first varsity football schedule this year, hosts Notre Dame out of Chattanooga on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a scrimmage.
Free Monday combined practice could draw up to 10,000 fans
It’s an experience Danny Hayes will never forget.
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Dr. William Blackman opened a box of tools consisting of medical instruments, including a saw, and proceeded to tell visitors how they were used more than a century ago to amputate limbs for soldiers wounded on the battlefield.Continued ...
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