Sanford Stadium aglow as UGA fans light the night
The lights began to turn on, tiny dots concentrated in the southeast corner of Notre Dame Stadium. Soon, light emanating from people’s phones had spread to a sizable portion of the stadium. Georgia was playing on the road earlier this September but it hardly looked like it. As Georgia’s Redcoat Band played the Krypton Fanfare before the fourth quarter, thousands of flashlight apps made Notre Dame Stadium look like a holiday light display.
In that moment, a recently formed practice solidified itself as a Georgia tradition.
“I wasn't expecting that at all,” Kenneth Hubbard said.
In the fall of 2015, Hubbard was a junior at Georgia majoring in economics. He also played trumpet in the Redcoat Band.
Two weeks before Georgia’s final home game of the 2015 regular season against Georgia Southern, a night game, Hubbard got the idea to encourage fans to turn on the flashlight app on their phones when the band played Krypton before the fourth quarter. When Hubbard presented the idea, the Bulldogs were 5-3.
“It had been a rough season,” Hubbard said. “Light it up for the seniors and let them know we're still there supporting them.”
Hubbard posted his proposition on the Redcoat Band’s Facebook page. Band members responded well to the idea. A fellow trumpeter, Grayze Anne Sepe, wanted to help. Together, Hubbard and Sepe started a social media blitz.
For a week and a half, they devoted hours of their time to posting on social media and calling student organizations — anything to spread the word. Graphics were made. The #LightUpSanford campaign was developed. Momentum picked up, but they couldn’t be sure their efforts had worked.
As the break between the third and fourth quarter approached on Nov. 21, 2015, Hubbard and Sepe grew anxious. They worried this whole time they had been shouting into a void on social media. There was no way to tell if the lights would turn on.
Then the band played the opening notes of the Krypton Fanfare.
Georgia’s student section became a wall of light. Others in the crowd turned on their flashlights. Brett Bawcum, an assistant director of bands and associate director of athletic bands at Georgia, estimated 40 to 50 percent of the fans held up their phone.
“I literally did not play a single note of Krypton,” Sepe said. “I was in awe. I started tearing up. I was cheering for joy. It was, if not the highlight, one of the best memories I've had as a student here at UGA.”
“I remember not being able to play because I was smiling and laughing and so overjoyed with how it turned out,” Hubbard said.
Fast forward a year, and Georgia had not played another home night game. In early November, with Auburn, Louisiana Lafayette and Georgia Tech left on the schedule, Hubbard knew the budding tradition wouldn’t catch on if it didn’t happen two years in a row.
Georgia’s game against Auburn was set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. A week before the game, Hubbard walked outside when he guessed the fourth quarter would start. The sky was dark.
“We're going to do it,” Hubbard said.
Sure enough, when the third quarter ended and the band began to play, people held up their phones. This time, almost the entire crowd participated.
This year, the Bulldogs’ first three games have been night games. The lights have appeared every time, with the amount depending on the number of fans in the stands. This Saturday at home against Mississippi State, Georgia plays a fourth straight night game.
On Wednesday night, the Redcoat Band played at the end of a high school marching band exhibition at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens. As they played Krypton to conclude their set, Sepe noticed lights flickered on in the packed stands. The tradition had become synonymous with the song they played.
Bawcum believes the tradition won’t be exclusive to Georgia for long. The visually appealing, awe-inspiring nature of it, he thinks, will lead other teams to adopt it. Regardless, Hubbard and Sepe just hope the tradition remains. They started it, but Georgia’s fans have taken over.
“I didn't think much would come of it,” Bawcum said. “I thought it was a cute idea, but I didn't expect it to take off quite like it has.”