Traditions are a funny concept. All traditions have a start, but very rarely do we know or remember how these traditions originate. They always seem to just, well, be there.
But that isn’t the case with Georgia football. We are in the midst of seeing a tradition form: Light Up Sanford.
It’s the moment right before the fourth quarter, when roughly 93,000 fans hold up their cell phone lights while the Redcoat Band plays Krypton. (See here.) It’s been happening for two years and got its start in a way that other traditions haven’t: through social media.
From YikYak to Facebook, from Twitter to Sanford Stadium, social media is what got Light Up Sanford off the screen and into reality.
In 2015, Redcoat Band trumpeter Kenneth Hubbard was sitting on the couch in his apartment with his roommates ― as many college students are probably doing right now ― when he came across a YikYak post. It suggested lighting up Sanford Stadium for Georgia’s final home game of the season.
“I was actually on YikYak, as outdated as that social media service already is, and someone had mentioned doing it and we thought that it was a really cool idea,” Hubbard said. “We decided that we were going to make it happen and part of doing that was getting the Redcoat Band to follow.”
Posting the idea on the Redcoat Band Facebook page, Hubbard immediately got the help he needed. This is when Grayze Anne Sepe, a fellow trumpeter, stepped in.
Sepe was able to put together a few graphics to advertise the plan to Light Up Sanford for the home finale against Georgia Southern. She also put up a Facebook event page, which really got social media buzzing.
“The next thing I know the Facebook page had about 2,000 people who said they were interested,” Sepe said. “Local radio, talk shows and podcasts were mentioning it.”
It continued to grow from there and Sepe said that it is because of social media that Light Up Sanford is even around today.
“All of the marketing and advertising we did for Light Up Sanford was solely through social media. There wasn’t anything printed or any advertising done in the traditional sense for it,” Sepe said. “A lot of it was that we knew that we had to do the hashtag and the goal was just to put it everywhere, just constantly tweeting. It was probably a little annoying that first year but I think it was worth it to just get the word out and get everyone on board.”
And on board everyone got.
Not a one-and-done occurrence
The key to Light Up Sanford always has been the night game atmosphere, and well, to be honest, in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, night games were pretty unheard of for Georgia.
And this could have spelled trouble for the budding tradition.
“In order for this to really become a tradition, the Redcoat Band knew that it needed to happen a second time,” Sepe said. “That way it wasn’t just a one-time thing during the 2015 season.”
So, the social media campaign was brought out again for the Auburn game last season. Again, graphics, Facebook pages, tweets and videos were made. And again, social media was flooded with Light Up Sanford.
But it wasn’t until this season that Light Up Sanford and tradition could be used in the same sentence. Both Hubbard and Sepe said that the transition to tradition can be traced to one game in particular.
“We tried to get [UGA] Athletics to recognize it because we were afraid that there wasn’t a lot of traction, but once the game at Notre Dame happened, I think they finally recognized that it was an actual tradition and that it was something they wanted to keep happening,” Sepe said.
And thus, what started out as a way for the Redcoat Band to honor the senior class in 2015 transformed into habit for Georgia fans.
“It was just a way for us to let the seniors on the football team know that we are here for them, we wanted to support them,” Hubbard said. “From then on it kind of took on a life of its own.”
More than just a few lights
Every night game, before the fourth quarter, the lights go up and countless videos are posted to social media. But Light Up Sanford is more than a dazzling light show. It’s symbolic.
And while other schools like Florida and Clemson have tried to emulate it, the lights in Sanford Stadium just seem different, more permanent.
“I think it is different that the way we did it as a school was that there was a tradition that we had already set up and we just kind of amplified its effect,” Sepe said.
But it’s more than amplification. It’s unification for DawgNation.
“It’s about us being there for the team in the fourth quarter, when we are rallying behind them,” Hubbard said. “Whether we are up by 40 points or down by 40 points, we just want to make sure that [the team] knows the fans are there for them.”
And it’s a symbol that isn’t lost in translation from the stands to the field. Georgia football players understand the significance and delight in the fact that Sanford Stadium shines down on them.
“It just shows you DawgNation,” junior tight end Jackson Harris said. “The enthusiasm and juice that they bring to the game, you can’t help but feed off of it. And you know? It’s fun. To go out there and have the fans excited and supporting you, whether it be the lights or the [other traditions], it’s fun to play in front of.”