Devon Gales, nearly a lifelong native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has never seen a game at Tiger Stadium. On Saturday, that will change.
Devon, his two siblings Dalen and Teah, his mother Tish and father Donny will be perched in the accessible-seating area to watch the SEC clash between Georgia and LSU. Before kickoff, however, the Galeses will be on the field for pregame recognition — nothing new for Devon, a center of attention at numerous sporting events in Athens.
The Gales’ family had already planned a Baton Rouge return to visit family members, especially Donnie who remains in Louisiana until he’s able transfer to Atlanta with UPS, but Devon did some lobbying to add this stop to the itinerary.
“We’re always excited to go back home, because we miss Louisiana,” Tish said. “We now have a little extra flavor thrown in there to go to an LSU game.”
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The three-year anniversary of Devon’s injury recently passed and LSU has been of assistance throughout. He suffered a C6 vertebrae fracture and was paralyzed from the waist down after an injury on Sept. 26, 2015. Devon was on kickoff coverage as a Southern University wide receiver and faced life-altering circumstances.
It was the idea of Ray Castle, LSU professor and director of the educational athletic training program, to work with the university on the pregame recognition. He wanted to give thanks to those who have assisted Devon. Georgia’s medical staff, led by director of sports medicine Ron Courson, will be recognized during the on-field presentation.
Castle also hopes for awareness with the accessible-home campaign for Devon which has made quicker-than-expected progress, according to Tish. The foundation of the house is complete and the framework is expected to begin within the next week on a land lot in Jefferson, which was donated by Whit Marshall, former Georgia linebacker and CEO of Paran Homes.
“Devon is an amazing person and inspires us to be better,” Castle said. “Georgia showed they took care of Devon from the moment the injury occurred. This is a way to thank them for taking care of a son of Louisiana and his family.”
As the two football teams square off for the first time since 2008 with plenty at stake, this serves as another chapter in collaboration between Georgia and LSU.
“It speaks volumes for both schools,” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said. “They’ve cared so much for Devon and his family. The Bulldog Nation has wrapped their arms around the Gales’ family in times of need, and we are happy to continue in the efforts to assist.”
LSU’s recognition effort is the next chapter in a three-year relationship between the university and family. Devon’s injury led Courson, Castle and Lovie Tabron (former Southern athletic trainer who assisted on field during the injury and is now a sports medicine coordinator at Georgia) to form an emergency preparedness course in coordination with the LSU College of Human Sciences and Education.
The free, one-day course is open to healthcare providers and athletic staffs in the area, and around an average of 200 have attended the event since its inauguration in July 2016. In turn, Castle told The Telegraph that efforts are ongoing to spread the event to multiple cities and courses throughout the calendar year.
Tish, when reflecting on her son’s influence on such an event, stated how such a course assisted staffs in dealing with emergency situations. She used the death of Pike County player Dylan Strong and the recovery of Tennessee State athlete Christion Abercrombie as examples of proper management.
“The main skills they’ve learned have led to several cases in which athletes have lived,” Castle said of those who have taken the course. “Otherwise, those athletes may have suffered more serious injuries or died. It has really been a phenomenal process to see that.”
All of LSU’s efforts have taken place because of Devon’s injury, but it may not be possible without the assistance of Tabron. She went from a complete stranger to an adopted member of the Gales’ family in a matter of hours.
Tabron was on the tenth day of her job at Southern when the traumatic injury happened at Sanford Stadium. According to Tish, they “didn’t know Lovie from anyone else,” but she stayed with them during surgery at Athens Regional, rehab at Shepherd Center and continues to do the same while 70 miles away from Atlanta.
As Devon continues to make strides in the Beyond Therapy program, including core strength, starting a journal to explore new avenues of independence and beginning to drive with accessible controls, Tabron is alongside him. At any point, the Bulldog staffer is ready to encourage Devon.
Once a liason, Tabron is intertwined in Devon’s path. Before the Tiger fans take their allegiances, she and the supporters of the Gales’ family will hear the only cheer for those in red-and-black.
“This is a way to commend everybody and the relationships we’ve built,” Tish said. “It’ll let everyone know the story and what’s going on.”