Saturday was a day of firsts for two Nebraska fans
For Betty Watts and Ted Mills — who are 93 and 98, respectively — Saturday marked the first time they watched their favorite Nebraska programs play in person.
Betty Watts was admittedly a little nervous when she found out she’d be attending Nebraska’s home matchup against Purdue. For many, a football Saturday at Memorial Stadium is an old habit. For Watts, it was all brand new.
At the age of 93, Watts attended her first Nebraska football game.
Alongside her daughter Starla King and her grandson Jason King, Watts was able to enjoy the full experience of a Husker game day from Suite 602 on the west side of Memorial Stadium.
“She’s having a blast,” Jason said early in the third quarter.
Watts smiled. The suite she was in was filled with fans, but she felt like the star. Those that passed by her told her she must have good luck. Nebraska defeated Purdue 34-17.
“My boys are winning,” Watts said. “And they’re doing well.”
Jason had been able to get the tickets through a friend, and the suite made it possible for Watts to attend. Not only did she have elevators available for access, but she was also able to watch from inside. On a cold day, that was particularly helpful.
Jason called his grandma selfless. She never asks for much, instead choosing to pour herself into those she loves.
“She's a great person,” Jason said. “She's raised all of her kids. She has seven children: three boys and four girls. She raised them a lot on her own and she always put them first before herself.
“This is one of those opportunities where you get to celebrate her a little bit.”
For someone that’s been a fan since the Huskers were only on the radio, Watts could never have imagined a day like Saturday.
But she and her family were certainly thrilled to see it happen.
The Nebraska Board of Regents approved a $450 million renovation of Memorial Stadium on Oct. 5. The renovation will entirely replace South Stadium, while making necessary updates to other sections of Memorial Stadium as well. If all goes as planned, the renovation will begin at the conclusion of the 2024 football season.
For all of the reasons for the updates needed, one stands out to make Memorial Stadium more equitable and affordable.
“We have got to solve our ADA problem in Memorial Stadium,” athletic director Trev Alberts said at a press conference in October. “It has not been addressed and it isn’t right. So, part of this strategy is, again, to deal with those sensitive areas that have not been addressed – and by starting over in South Stadium, ADA is a very significant component of that.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — which became law in 1990 — prohibits “discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public.”
For a place like Nebraska, bringing its facilities up to that expected standard will go a long way in making spaces like Memorial Stadium more accessible to all.
The Nebraska football team wasn’t the only one with a game on Saturday, and they weren’t the only ones with someone new in attendance. One mile northeast, the volleyball team was set to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at 7:30 p.m. at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
With doors set to open at 6 p.m., Ted Mills — joined by his wife Joyce Mills, and his daughter Nancy Philipps and son-in-law Joe Philipps — waited for just a couple of minutes outside of the south doors of the Devaney Center. At 98-years-old, it was his first Nebraska volleyball match.
Ted is a big Nebraska volleyball fan. He has a signed copy of coach John Cook’s book and watches all of the Huskers’ matches on TV. He never thought he’d see a match in person. Joyce gets around with the help of a walker, and it’s not easy to navigate the ins and outs of the Devaney Center.
It was just about a year ago when Cook overheard Ted’s granddaughter-in-law — which would be me (spoiler alert) — discussing how to possibly get Ted to a match. Tickets are hard to come by, including the accessible seats for those that need it.
That was until Cook suggested Ted sit in his box.
The suggestion kicked off a year of anticipation as Ted waited for the 2023 Nebraska volleyball schedule to be released. It was in August that the game he could attend was selected and the tickets — alongside a parking pass — arrived in the mail. On Saturday, the moment had arrived and the experience surpassed anything Ted and his family could have hoped for.
After Nebraska swept Rutgers, Ted was leaving the Devaney Center when he heard a voice.
“Is this Ted?” Cook asked as he turned the corner in the hallway just off the court.
Reminiscing on the moment one day later, Ted and Joyce couldn’t get over it. Not only did they get to watch a match at the Devaney Center but they also got to meet Cook.
“It was just a special night,” Ted said.
For Nebraska, finding ways to be accessible to all fans is key. Whether it’s through upgrades and renovations or through programs like the Red Carpet Experience, the Huskers are constantly considering how to best serve its fanbase. It’s not perfect yet, but the Huskers — led by Alberts and many within the Nebraska administration office — are always looking for ways to make things more accessible.
For Betty Watts and Ted Mills, their journeys to see their favorite programs in person proved to be exactly what they had hoped for. At 93 and 98 years old, they couldn’t have asked for anything more — wins included.
And for those part of Nebraska’s programs, seeing the joy that their sports bring to fans of all ages is everything.
As Cook walked off from meeting Ted Saturday night, he smiled.
“That is what it’s all about,” Cook said.
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