Remembering Shelton Stevens, an enduring part of Georgia Tech-Georgia rivalry

Former Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Network executive director Shelton Stevens (center) poses with the Governor's Cup at a Georgia-Georgia Tech football game in Athens on Nov. 26, 2022. Stevens died in June at the age of 76. With Stevens are, from left, UGA athletic director Josh Brooks, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and UGA President Jere Morehead. (Photo courtesy of the Stevens family).

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Stevens familiy

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Stevens familiy

Former Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Network executive director Shelton Stevens (center) poses with the Governor's Cup at a Georgia-Georgia Tech football game in Athens on Nov. 26, 2022. Stevens died in June at the age of 76. With Stevens are, from left, UGA athletic director Josh Brooks, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and UGA President Jere Morehead. (Photo courtesy of the Stevens family).

The father that Pat Stevens knew loved sports and had a heart for children. Shelton Stevens coached his sons’ youth baseball teams – some to state championships – and decades later was the grandparent most likely to be found in the thicket of mayhem.

“To this day, if at church or around the house at dinner, if someone was getting on the kids for doing something – (such as) throwing a ball in the house – you could usually look and find my dad in the middle of that,” Pat Stevens said. “That was who he was.”

The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta development officer that Scott Hodoval supervised raised tens of millions of dollars for the hospital through sports-related events. But Stevens also relied on his connections to support sick children in a far more personal way.

For instance, if a hospital staffer called Stevens to tell him that a patient had asked for a football signed by Georgia coach Kirby Smart, “he’d drive to Athens that morning with a ball, get it signed and deliver it that afternoon,” said Hodoval, who until retiring served CHOA as the vice president of development for its foundation. “Or he’d get Kirby to call the child. He did a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for our patients in addition to fundraising.”

Shelton, who died in June at the age of 76 after complications from a gastrointestinal bleed, served the state of Georgia’s children in need with dedication and impact. He is remembered this week in advance of the Georgia Tech-Georgia game. As a proud UGA alumnus, Stevens relished Clean Old-Fashioned Hate and played a distinct role in the game as a CHOA representative, annually taking part in the presentation of the Governor’s Cup trophy to the winning team.

“Shelton really always looked forward to that,” Hodoval said this week. “That was just a passion of his, to be at the game every year.”

Born and raised in Atlanta (graduating from Briarcliff High School in DeKalb County, since closed), married 53 years to his high-school sweetheart (Tena), father to sons Pat and Andy and grandfather of six and a man of Christian faith, Stevens began his career in sporting goods sales and ultimately ran his own company.

His career choice reflected the passion for sports that coursed in his blood. Stevens played for the freshman baseball team at Georgia, his son said, and was a devoted fan of Atlanta’s teams and his alma mater’s.

Hodoval, Stevens’ CHOA supervisor, recalled that when Stevens represented the hospital at a Tech function, he wore a tie that was gold on the front but red on the back to keep his alma mater’s color close to his heart.

“He was a Bulldog through and through, for sure,” Hodoval said.

In 1992, Stevens switched tracks and accepted a position as executive director for Scottish Rite Festival, a non-profit supporting Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center. He specialized in sports-related fundraising events such as a Georgia-Florida high-school all-star football game and a college basketball doubleheader featuring Tech and UGA. He also worked closely with Atlanta’s pro teams.

When Scottish Rite merged with Egleston Children’s Health Care System in 1998 to form CHOA, Stevens became executive director of the CHOA Foundation Sports Network. Stevens initiated several fundraisers, such as events with Braves stars John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman and former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, among many others. Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan, another partner, called Stevens “one of the most connected guys in Atlanta sports.”

An enduring fundraiser that Stevens helped launch is the annual baseball game between Tech and Georgia, which started in 2003. First played at Turner Field, it moved to Truist Park and now is at Coolray Field. The game has drawn as many as 28,800 fans and has been among the most attended games in college baseball.

With Stokan, Stevens helped develop a fundraiser in which fans pledge money for each touchdown their team scores in the regular season, which after four years has raised more than $1.5 million in the fight against childhood cancer.

“Just one of the nicest, kindest, unassuming guys that you’d ever want to meet,” said Stokan, whose organization has donated about $22.5 million overall to CHOA. “He was creative, hardworking. Loved the Bulldogs, for sure.”

He topped his development work by arranging hospital visits from athletes, securing autographs and other touches to brighten patients’ days. Pat Stevens recalled his father getting calls from Smoltz and going to the hospital to see patients and hand out autographed baseballs.

“They’d literally go to every room and spend the entire day together without any fanfare doing stuff like that,” Pat Stevens said. “He did that all the time.”

Stevens retired from CHOA in 2017 but continued to work on its behalf, particularly with UGA. Asked about Stevens this week, Smart called him “a great, great man” who to him was the face of CHOA and embodied its mission.

“The one thing I’ll say about him is he always did the duty that lies nearest,” Smart said. “That’s the kind of person he was.”

A member of Stevens’ team estimated that when he retired he had helped raise close to $40 million for CHOA. It was suggested to that person, development officer Dave Winokur, that Stevens was perfectly suited for his job.

“I would agree,” he said. “I really do think so. He was great at it.”

A favorite part of the job happened on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. From 1933-93, freshman or junior varsity teams from Tech and Georgia played on Thanksgiving Day as a benefit for Scottish Rite. In later years, they played for the Governor’s Cup. Since the game’s discontinuation, the trophy has gone to the winner of the varsity game.

Along with the sitting governor and former Tech football player Brad Bourne (a friend and CHOA supporter), Stevens helped present the trophy to victorious coaches and players. Stevens enjoyed it so much that he continued in that role after his retirement.

“He truly loved it,” Pat Stevens said.

On Saturday evening, Pat and his family are planning to be at Bobby Dodd Stadium, along with Gov. Brian Kemp and CHOA executive Beth Buursema, to award the trophy.

It will be a satisfying moment for the winning team and its fans, but also a time to remember a life lived with impact and humility, one most worthy of celebration.

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