ATHENS – The greatest commotion and loudest noise during an otherwise quite ordinary basketball game between the Bulldogs and Auburn Saturday evening was reserved for midway in the second half. With not a player on the floor.
Then, during a timeout, came the announcement that Devon Gales, the Southern University football player paralyzed during a football game against Georgia last season, was in Stegeman Coliseum.
The in-house camera trained on his perch on a mid-level walkway. The sellout crowd rose to its feet, first cheering the sight of him in his wheelchair, then breaking into a building-wide spasm of barking.
For the rest of the game, until he was wheeled down to the floor to meet the team at half-court at game’s end, a steady line of fans passed by to wish him well and get photos with him.
So prolonged was the smile on his face that Gales joked afterward, “My face is going to hurt.”
“I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Since the special teams hit that left him motionless on the Sanford Stadium grass Sept. 26, Gales has been rehabbing at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. He currently lives at the Center’s residence adjacent to the hospital, and a preliminary date of release has been set. He could return home to Baton Rouge, La., as soon as Feb. 24, his stepmother, Tisha Gales, said Saturday.
In the four-plus months since his injury, Devon reports that, “I have a lot more movement in my legs, and more movement in my fingers. It’s coming along good.”
Doctors have said that the odds do not favor him walking again. On the long road to recovery, the victories have been marked by small advances. As his stepmother said, Gales now has greater sensation in his legs and has regained enough dexterity in his hands to hold a cup or take a pill.
In the meantime, Gales’ relationship to Georgia only seems to grow stronger. The meeting with the players after the ‘Dogs 65-55 victory had the look of a pep rally, as they circled him and chanted.
“He’s a great kid,” guard Charles Mann said. “It’s a sad situation what happened to him but he’s in good spirits.
“Just seeing somebody like that is a blessing. He’s a part of the family so it’s nice seeing him and talking to him and just saying good things to him.”
Bulldogs coach Mark Fox saw great benefit in the meeting – for both Gales and his team.
“I have great respect for Devon, to face what he has had to deal with, with the spirit which he has done it – I think he is a great example for everybody.
“I think people would line up to have my problems and your problems. They’re not lining up to have his. And he’s handled it unbelievably well. And I think for our players to meet him and to share some time with him was really important for our young people to grow up.”