The heat index topped out at 97 degrees during afternoon games in Sanford Stadium this fall, and Red Cross volunteers dealt with hundreds of overheated Georgia Bulldog fans.
A simple drink of cool water could have prevented some of these episodes, but the fact is that fans learn that water fountains are hard to find in the enormous stadium.
If Red Cross volunteers have their way, misting fans may be in place next year to make early season games more bearable.
“At this point in time, we’re not planning on adding any water fountains,” said Charles Whittemore, the Assistant Athletic Director of Facilities and former All-SEC split end for the Bulldogs.
According to Whittemore, water fountains can be found in fifteen locations throughout the 92,000-seat stadium. But some of them, Whittemore admitted, can be hard to spot. For example, the water fountains nearest to gate one are tucked behind the women’s bathroom.
Fans face a Catch-22 when it comes to re-useable water bottles: it’s not against the rules to fill water bottles in the stadium, but fans can’t bring water bottles into the facility because they might contain alcohol (also banned) or be dangerously breakable.
The result is that students must spend $3.50 for a bottle of water, which they are welcome to refill if they can locate a water fountain.
Some people who get dizzy or pass out from the heat are revived by friends; others turn to the first aid stations spotted around Sanford. “The first game, we recorded 265,” said Mike Rivers, the veteran Red Cross volunteer who runs the first aid stations. The Bulldogs played Buffalo that day and the heat index reached 97 degrees.
“Late afternoon is really the hottest time in the stadium. The heat builds up on that concrete, and the wind, the breeze dies down and so you have a lot of heat and humidity,” said Rivers.
“We’ve been requesting and trying to work out some misting fans, which I think would really help, and just set up in different locations like the new plaza and the 200 level, there’s a big open area there,” said Rivers.
Rivers is confident that the university will agree to the request, which will help fans stay hydrated during games. “The university’s really supportive of what we do,” said Rivers, “if we request something, they usually come through.”
Over the years, water fountains have been added along with renovations. Sanford Stadium was built in 1929 when the building codes didn’t make water fountains a priority. Stricter building codes required more water fountains as various gates, decks and zones have been added.
Consequently, there are fewer water fountains in the original structure, while newer parts that adhere to more recent building codes provide water fountains on a par with facilities such as Turner Field or the Georgia Dome.
Meeting building codes is the responsibility of architects, not the athletic department. “I don’t even know what the codes are today,” said Whittemore.
Some students find the notion of water fountains in the stadium a myth. “To be honest, I’ve never even seen one (a water fountain),” said Eric Reynolds, a freshman finance major and avid Bulldogs fan.
“I think if they have them, they should advertise them better,” said Natalie Robertson, a third-year student who is majoring in – wait for it – advertising.