CLARKE COUNTY, Ga. — There is no place like Sanford Stadium on a fall Saturday. Even as 92,000 fans pack in to watch the Dawgs, Bulldog Nation stretches around the globe.
Some fans are able to stay connected thousands of miles, and sometimes oceans, away.
The university’s mission statement — “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things” — is clear, but to achieve it, you need to have a worldwide presence.
Mexico City, London, Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii are just four of the hundreds of UGA alumni chapters around the world. Even thousands of miles away, you can still get a taste of a Saturday in Athens.
“We just learned that there was actually a large group of us out here, there’s about 300 alumni,” Honolulu Chapter President Danielle Sturkie said.
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There are chapters in some places you would never imagine, like Anchorage, Alaska, which is led by Ellie Cash.
“One day got to negative 25,” Cash said.
In spite of those temperatures, Cash said when it comes to football, it still feels like home.
“There’s a huge SEC presence up here. Alaska feels like the most northern southern state. It’ll be like, ‘Hey, I went to UGA,’ or someone who is like, ‘Oh, you went to UGA,’” Cash explained.
That continues when it comes to game day at the bar where the chapter hosts watch parties.
“So it’s kind of a first-come, first-served sort of thing is what I understand for the best seat in the house, so I think we’ll probably have to be pushing people away,” said Cash. “Since Alaska is so huge, our alumni base is very spread out. There are people all over, that have reached out and been like, I wish I could be there.”
“We have 500 people who are followers on our Facebook page here in Mexico City,” said Doug Hall, the chapter president for the city. “A few years ago, a couple of my friends who worked for the American Embassy started a chapter of the UGA Alumni Association here in Mexico City.”
On the menu at their watch party: barbecue.
“A mutual friend of ours owns a chain of barbecue restaurants. He provides a really nice private space, basically in a small bar, for us to get together. We welcome everybody to like, even if you’re just on the islands visiting,” Hall said.
Back in Hawaii, Sturkie said her game days start bright and early.
“Our kickoff parties are very early morning, but a great way to start your day. We met at Skybox Tap House, which is in Waikiki. Just also like spawning each other and be able to watch together and connect again, like we did on the mainland,” Sturkie said.
She never imagined the Bulldogs community would be so large, so far away.
“It kind of blew our minds to learn. There are 300 of us on the island. One day I noticed that I was just driving in the car in front of me was a UGA School of Social Work bumper sticker. I was like, ‘There’s another UGA School of Social Work alumni here,’” she recalled.
London chapter president Drew Bacon said the first thing he did after moving to England was to find where his local alumni chapter was located.
“You might be overwhelmed by a lot of little cultural subtleties. Just to kind of have that place (that) feels like home,” he said.
That is certainly the case on Saturdays.
“We kind of try to stay with a standard sports bar that we know that they’ll have a streaming service where we can get the games,” Bacon explained. “A lot of people come to our game watching parties from, they might be stationed in the U.K. with the U.S. military or something like that. Again, just being so far away from Athens, that you can come here and you can still meet 50, 60, 100 dogs that are like going to a game-watching party.”
The distance may be great, but that makes the bond more special.
“The more I started communicating with UGA, kind of thinking about getting an alumni group together, the more we’re getting certain emails from people pulled together,” Cash said.
“There’s that many of us. So crazy,” said Sturkie.
“When you do get that ‘Go Dawgs,’ it’s pretty cool,” Bacon added.
Sometimes, even Bulldog royalty can show up to a watch party.
“Kirby Smart’s mother, Sharon Smart, ended up showing up for a game one time because she was just on vacation in London. We posted on our, like all of our, social channels, and we were like ‘Kirby’s mom’s here’ and stuff like that. So that was, that was a really fun one,” Bacon recalled.
It’s more than just football. It’s about community.
“Sometimes the activities aren’t limited to sometimes more indoor stuff, but a lot of people up here don’t mind this note. So I’m like it could be so fun for us to do like a dog’s ski event or something like that. Like something — really you know, just an Alaskan experience together,” Cash said.
“We definitely want to have some beach parties. You know, maybe we can even get a couple hiking groups or something like that,” Sturkie said.
“UGA, for so many people around the world, means family, and just the best memories that we had in college. Some of our best friends you make, or maybe your future spouse, whatever, you meet them at UGA,” Cash added.
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