A big day for a special young Commodore fan

Last Saturday proved to be a disappointment for most loyal Vanderbilt football fans, but not for Ben Proctor. Thanks to a generous gesture by Vanderbilt's Athletic Department, Saturday was one of the greatest days of the Montgomery Ala. 16-year-old lad's life.

NASHVILLE-- Last Saturday proved to be a disappointment for most loyal Vanderbilt football fans, but not for Ben Proctor. Thanks to a generous gesture by Vanderbilt's Athletic Department, Saturday was one of the greatest days of the Montgomery Ala. 16-year-old lad's life.

Proctor, who was born with Downs Syndrome, attended his first Vanderbilt home game ever back on August 30 with his father, David, a VU alumnus and lifelong Commodore fan. Ben, a student at Brubaker Junior High in Montgomery, finally got to smell the grass at Vanderbilt Stadium and cheer for his beloved Commodores in person.

As Vanderbilt took a lead over Ole Miss that day, young Ben could hardly contain his excitement. Fans surrounding his seat in Section T took note of young Ben's contagious enthusiasm, and began high-fiving him whenever something good happened. "He got everybody in the section fired up," recalls his father. By the fourth quarter, Ben was the most popular fan in the section.

But the game ultimately ended in frustration for Ben and the rest of the Commodore faithful. The visiting Rebels emerged victorious by virtue of a late 54-yard field goal, and Ben's first visit to Dudley Field turned sour. As time expired, Ben was inconsolable. Crushed by the loss, he sat alone with his head between his hands and cried.

Ben's father David, a Montgomery tax attorney and a frequent poster on VandyMania.com, posted a poignant account of Ben's first visit to Vanderbilt on the football message board.

Over at McGugin Athletic Center, the post caught the attention of Vanderbilt's Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, Rod Williamson. "When I saw that post, I immediately said, we ought to do something about that," said Williamson. "We need to bring him back here for another game later in the season."

Williamson contacted the Proctors and offered them primo tickets for the game against Navy. He also invited Ben to stay around afterwards and meet a number of the coaches and players after the game. "It seemed like a no-brainer," said Williamson.

Vanderbilt's gesture "just about made Ben's life," according to his father David. "When I told him about it, his feet didn't touch the ground for two weeks, he was so excited."

The long-anticipated day finally arrived last Saturday, and the pair (right) arrived a few hours prior to the Vanderbilt-Navy kickoff. Ben's day began with the team's traditional, emotionally-charged walk-across from McGugin Center to Vanderbilt Stadium.

Ben had carefully staked out a strategic position along the route. "I think he managed to high-five about 80 of the players," said his father.

Once inside the stadium, a number of Commodore fans and VandyMania posters, familiar with Ben's story, stopped by to greet the Proctors and give Ben the high-five. One of them was "Vandy Lance" Smith, Vanderbilt's most notorious fan, who gave Ben an autographed mini-football.

By game time the normally reserved Ben, wearing his No. 6 Jay Cutler replica jersey, was higher than a helium balloon. Once again, fans seated around the Proctors were caught up short by Ben's unquenchable enthusiasm.

The game ended in another disappointment for Ben, however, as the Commodores fell to the Midshipmen, 37-27. But this time, Ben's day wasn't done.

The two Proctors headed back to McGugin Center, where Ben was treated like royalty by members of the football team. Over 30 of the players, as well as a few coaches, stopped by to sign autographs and give Ben warm hugs, high-fives and memorabilia.

Many of the players went out of their way to greet Ben, his father said. Ben had his picture snapped with quarterback Jay Cutler (left) and plenty of others. Father and son were both overwhelmed by their genuine interest.

The drive back to Montgomery was long, but not nearly as long as the last one, said David.

"Ben was quiet for a long time on the way back," said David. "But finally he looked up and told me that we're going to beat Georgia."

That may be far from certain, but one thing is certain: 16-year-old Ben Proctor is a Commodore fan for the rest of his life.


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