ATHENS — A lot of folks in Elberton are hopping mad at Georgia. A lot of folks.
No doubt, everybody here has seen or knows about the big granite statue of the bulldog that has sat in place of prominence behind the east end zone at Sanford Stadium. Well, it’s not in a place of prominence anymore.
In fact, sitting in your seats inside Sanford Stadium this football season you won’t be able to see it at all. And that doesn’t sit well with the good folks of Elberton, and a subset of them who happen to be very passionate about the Bulldogs and that statue in particular.
Chief among them would be Tom Oglesby and other longtime members of the Elbert County Bulldog Club. Oglesby donated the 4,820-pound statue to UGA and Athletic Director Vince Dooley in 1992 on the occasion of the 100-year celebration of Georgia football. Created by master sculptor Steve Mooney, the statue has overlooked the East End Zone ever since then.
But UGA says it had to move it in order to install new premium, field-level suites between the hedges and the east grandstand. It was part of a $63 million renovation that included moving the team’s locker room from underneath the east stands into the new building on the west end.
The statue moved with the team, but it ended up out of view underneath the bridge in the northwest corner of the stadium and no longer a part of pregame proceedings.
“I would’ve picked a better place to put it, let’s put it that way,” said Oglesby, president Keystone Memorials in Elberton.
Here’s where the story gets a little cloudy. Georgia officials said Oglesby was informed of exactly where the statue would be relocated in a meeting back in February and that it had been designated for that spot since construction plans were finalized last December.
“The location has never changed from where it was on the original drawings and Tom knows that,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Thursday. “I’m not sure where there was confusion about that, but I’ve talked to Tom about it and he understands why we did what we did.”
Oglesby said he didn’t realize where the statue was going to end up until he came to Sanford Stadium this past Friday to oversee the crews charged with resetting the massive work of art. He said it was only then that he realized the statue would be out of view during the Bulldogs’ games.
“They showed me another place, which they deny now,” Oglesby said. “But it’s not where I thought it’d be. We just set it where they said to set it, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m concerned it’s not going to be on TV. I’m worried it’s going to get vandalized. Where it is now, there’s nothing stopping a Tech fan from dropping a bottle of paint on it from the bridge and just keep walking.”
Oglesby carried his concerns back to Elberton and then went public with his complaints in a story written by WSGC Radio reporter Linton Johnson. Since then, other local residents are voicing their complaints and a “Save the Dawg” Facebook page has been created.
“The Granite Dawg has always been a source of pride for people from Elberton, the ‘Granite Capital of the World,'” said Johnson, an Elberton resident and former publisher of the local newspaper there.” Folks around here are upset they won’t see the statue in its rightful place when the Bulldogs come out to take the field, for the first time in 26 years. They also think Tom Oglesby, who donated the statue in 1992 and is a longstanding, major supporter of the football program, was treated kind of shabbily in the relocation. It’s hard to understand how a 4-by-4 1/2 foot sculpture that means a lot to the Bulldog faithful couldn’t have been accommodated in the design of the new West End Zone facility.”
So far the protest remains fairly local. McGarity said he talked Oglesby and Thursday and has received a number of emails about it.
“I’ve responded to four or five of them, but I haven’t heard back from anybody after explained why we did what we did,” he said.
McGarity said proximity of the West grandstands to the back of the end zone and the width of the tunnel where players will enter prevented UGA from placing the statue next to the field as it had been on the other end. Meanwhile, he said area underneath the bridge and surrounding the new building and scoreboard was “designed to be interactive.” It was public access in mind that the decision was made to put the statue where they did.
“The whole intent was to get it into an area that would be public,” McGarity said. “It’s now in a location close to the (Olympic) torch and the retired jerseys area. People can go up to it and have their pictures taken with it. Now everybody has access to it.”
McGarity was asked if any consideration was given to leaving the statue where it was and incorporating it into the new suites.
“No, because the whole emphasis was to include it in the new interactive area for our fans,” he said. “People were always wanting to sneak in there on game day and have their picture taken with it but we wouldn’t let them because it was a non-ticketed area. Our thought all along was to have it where people could have their picture taken with a beautiful monument.”
Oglesby said it was not his intention to “stir up a bunch of [expletive],” but he simply doesn’t think the location is befitting of the statue that he donated to the university at the behest of former UGA art professor and athletic board member Jack Keyhoe 26 years ago.
“It’s disappointing, but they seem like they have their minds made up,” he said. “They have their reasons I guess. But I’m willing to go back over there and move it of they’ll let me.”
McGarity said wants to see what fans think when they return to the stadium this fall. The Bulldogs open the season against Austin Peay on Sept. 1. The area remains under construction and will be off limits to the public yet.
“Nobody’s seen it yet,” McGarity said. “Let’s wait until they can. Everybody’s reacting to it not being in the East End Zone, which might be a shock to some people. But they need to see themselves first.”