Atlanta championship game goes the extra yard for Georgia Teacher of the Year

Many public school teachers are used to cramped faculty lounges, sitting on metal or wooden bleachers during pep rallies, sporting events and assemblies in multi-purpose venues, and scarfing down lukewarm meals in the cafeteria before racing back to their classrooms.

Casey Bethel, an AP science teacher at New Manchester High School in Douglasville, Ga., never dreamed he’d be pampered in the restricted-access Extra Yard for Teachers Lounge at the Georgia World Congress Center, hang out in a VIP ESPN Tailgate Lounge during the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! concert series at Centennial Olympic Park, and find himself on the field at state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Stadium being introduced to the College Football Playoff National Championship crowd.

Chair massages, a decked-out game room, complimentary happy hour, fresh-baked cookies and hot Chick fil-A sandwiches, stress management sessions and learning opportunities, and college football’s biggest game of the year – a teacher, heck anyone, could get used to this…

Bethel, Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, received this royal treatment courtesy of the College Football Playoff Foundation‘s Extra Yard for Teachers initiative designed to pump up the teaching profession.

Among thousands of football fans roaming the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s downtown Atlanta campus Jan. 6-8 before the  big game,  Bethel and fellow educators also participated in the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit in the GWCC’s Sidney Marcus Auditorium on Jan. 6, a program featuring presentations, a panel of motivational speakers, including Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen, and performers, including Georgia-born “American Idol” champ Phillip Phillips.

The weekend of recognition was capped off the night of Jan. 8 when Bethel, and fellow Teachers of the Year from all 50 states, basked in the spotlight on the MBS turf moments prior to the Georgia-Alabama championship matchup.

An UGA grad, Bethel was disappointed with the outcome of the game – the Bulldogs’ heartbreaking overtime loss to the Crimson Tide – but blown away by the total experience.

“It couldn’t happen at a better time – the teaching profession needs this,” said Bethel. “The College Football Playoff Foundation is doing something they didn’t have to do. They’re producing a game, they’re producing a wonderful event, but I think at the heart of it, they really want to make a difference. What better way to make lasting change and difference than invest in education and teachers? I think that’s what they’re hinting about when they say they’re going the extra yard to represent teachers, and we thank them for that.”

Georgia’s Teacher of the Year Casey Bethel prepares for an interview with CFP Foundation ambassador Rachel Lindsay on Jan. 5 inside Sidney Marcus Auditorium.

Supporting education, the CFP Foundation is the charitable arm of the College Football Playoff. Since Tampa handed the baton, or shall we say, passed the pigskin, to Atlanta last January, the CFP and its local offshoot, the Atlanta Football Host Committee and its partners embarked on a series of philanthropic boosts to Atlanta schools, including classroom makeovers, monetary donations, co-funding a literacy initiative, and hosting the Extra Yard For Teachers Week.

For Carl Adkins, Executive Director of the AFHC, in charge of assisting with the planning of the 2018 CFP Championship Game and fan-related events, the Extra Yard for Teachers program really hit home. That’s because one of his daughters is in her first year teaching at Sedalia Park Elementary School in Cobb County. “From a personal standpoint, I really became passionate about it,” he said. “It’s just a great way to have a positive effect on the community.”

Striving to make the CFP Championship more than simply a game, Britton Banowsky, Executive Director of the CFP Foundation, said when the nascent College Football Playoff organization was forming after the Bowl Championship Series  (BCS) was scrapped, leaders put their heads together to develop a community investment strategy. They decided, “education is where we need to be – 95 percent of what we do is education,” said Banowsky.

More than 97,000 teachers have been impacted through the Extra Yard for Teachers Program in its first three years, as well as more than 3 million students in more than 12,000 schools across the country. In addition, the CFP Foundation has kicked in more than $11 million to support the teaching profession.

“The teachers are so grateful,” said Banowsky. “They don’t get treated this way very often. They are authentic in their gratitude.”

Meanwhile, the Peach State’s Teacher of the Year wasn’t even planning on being an educator. He was on track to become a cardiovascular surgeon. But when he became a teachers assistant in grad school at UGA’s Center for Applied Genetic Technologies, something within him clicked. Realizing the satisfaction he gained from instructing undergraduates in the genetics lab, Bethel decided to exchange the operating room for the classroom.

“It was the best decision of my life,” Bethel said.