For the first time in its 23-year history, the Corky Kell Classic will be held over two days — Friday and Saturday. And, unlike most of its previous years at the Georgia Dome, this 2014 Classic will take place entirely at McEachern’s Walter Cantrell Stadium.
A record 14 teams will participate in the event, with all seven games — two Friday and five Saturday — broadcast by Fox Sports South and on radio by 92.9 the Game.
A conflict with the Atlanta Falcons’ preseason schedule forced the Classic to move from the Dome to McEachern. Roof damage in 1997 also forced games out of the Dome and into the stadiums at Brookwood and McEachern.
The event’s relocation presented several challenges for McEachern’s staff, but the biggest tests will involve getting people in and out of the area smoothly.
“Just the logistical part of people coming and going all day has been the big thing for us. Not just fans, but also buses,” said McEachern athletic director Jimmy Dorsey, one of the Classic’s primary organizers since the event started. “One time, we figured out there’s a chance we could have 60 buses on our campus at one time, when you think about four teams being there at these transitions at the same time.
“So, just trying to come up with plans to get everybody on and off campus, from fans, to bands to cheerleaders to football players, and then having some plan to get them off campus in an orderly fashion has probably been one of our biggest challenges.”
McEachern will have some help in that area. The Cobb County Department of Transportation developed a traffic management plan, and Dorsey said the Cobb DOT will also have a website for people to see live traffic updates.
The Cobb County School District is also providing buses to shuttle fans from nearby parking lots, some of which are within walking distance to the stadium.
“It’s been kind of an amazing thing to see all the different facets from our county government stepping up,” Dorsey said. “It’s going to make the difference between this being a disaster and this being successful and we’ve been especially appreciative of that because we need all the help we can get. It’s a big relief to have their help and expertise in that kind of thing.”
Another challenge will be dealing with the heat, as temperatures are forecasted to reach the mid-90s Saturday afternoon.
“With the heat factor in those middle games, we’re not going to do anything that’s not going to be safe for the kids,” Dorsey said. “If we have to give them extra water breaks or whatever, then we just have to do that. We’ve arranged to have fogging fans on the sidelines, like you’d see at college games. We have a big 26-foot ice truck coming in that’s going to have about 300 to 400 bags of ice on it.
“We’re trying to think of everything we can to make sure that the players are safe and rehydrating and staying as safe as they can.”
Dorsey said close to 400 volunteers will be involved with the event at some point, working in parking lots, concession stands, being team hosts or having some other duty.
“It’s been a big team effort,” he said. “As stressful as it’s been to figure all of this out, to see our community come together and rally around this event and offer their support has been great to see.
“Everything that we’ve thought of we think we have a plan and, hopefully, it’s a good enough plan to make it go as smoothly as it can.”
Total attendance Saturday could reach 25,000 to 30,000, with Dorsey expecting the walk-up traffic to range from 5,000 to 7,000.
“The thing that worries me the most is that somebody will come and then not go home, because it’s not like you can spread out and find a seat at the Dome,” he quipped. “If nobody goes home, we’re in some deep trouble. It will be hot, so maybe they won’t stay so long.”
Teams will conduct pre-game warm-ups on an adjacent practice field. Dorsey hopes this will speed up the time between games to help keep things on schedule.
McEachern has hosted several events in the past, including the “Battle of I-75” the last two years, which helped towards planning for the relocated Classic.
“It showed us some things that we can do better, which is going to help us in this game,” Dorsey said. “One thing we do at McEachern is we can throw a party, so we have some experience under our belt. Certainly, nothing to this magnitude, so we’ll find out what we’re made of.”