For Derek Sills (’97), the idea of honoring a Georgia Southern icon is a combination of college memories and current football games.
“I stopped by the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame and saw the original statue of Testudo (the team’s turtle mascot), after attending the Georgia Southern vs. Delaware game last year. I got angry. If the turtle gets a statue, Erk was gonna get one too,” he said.
Sills, a Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation board member and a former high school football coach, is raising money to commission a seven-and-a-half foot bronzed statue of Erk Russell to be placed at the entrance of Allen E. Paulson Stadium. He believes that Russell epitomizes the pageantry of college football. “Our founder is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game,” he said.
Sills has garnered support for his charitable cause through social media sites such as Facebook and www.gsufans.com as well as publicity through the sports section of The Los Angeles Times. Notable figures in the sports world have also jumped on the bandwagon to lend their monetary support to the project, such as sportswriter Tony Barnhart and former University of Georgia head football coach Vince Dooley who coached with Russell for 17 years.
“Coach Dooley told me that he was so glad that we were pushing forward to honor Erk Russell and he would help in any way he could. He said, ‘Erk would make one great statue with that big old bald head of his,’” laughed Sills.
At a cost of $80,000 to commission the statue, Sills and the Coastal Eagle Club of Midway, Ga., are hosting a creative fundraiser on May 27. To date, Sills noted that the Foundation is more than halfway toward its goal of funding the cost of the statue. Individual squares are being sold for the “Eagles for Erk” barbecue and pig patty party.
“We will have 1,000 squares marked off in a grid pattern, at a cost of $20 per square,” he said. “Whoever owns the square where the pig ‘drops the ball’ will win $5,000 dollars,” he explained, with the remainder of the proceeds earmarked for the statue fund.
“We owe everything we are to the legendary bald eagle. Erk Russell is our tradition – he is the spirit of who we are,” said Sills. “He took a Kmart football and ran with it to three titles, he took drainage ditch waters and made them magical, he took an old yellow school bus and rode that thing to glory. It is time we paid him back.”
Donations can be made at eaglesforerk.com or through the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation.