Duncan values return to Atlanta for SC’s Celebration Bowl coverage

Anchor Elle Duncan is looking forward to her first SportsCenter on The Road assignment in her native Atlanta.
Anchor Elle Duncan is looking forward to her first SportsCenter on The Road assignment in her native Atlanta.
I’m super grateful for a million reasons, and obviously that it’s in my home town is icing on the cake. – Elle Duncan on her SOTR assignment in Atlanta

To say that SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan is excited about her assignment this week would be an understatement.

Duncan is part of the SportsCenter on the Road team that will be doing live segments from the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta between 9 a.m. and noon ET on Saturday, leading up to ABC’s live telecast of the game. North Carolina Central will take on Grambling State in the matchup between the MEAC and SWAC conference champions.

For Atlanta native Duncan, it’ll be her first SportsCenter on the Road assignment since joining ESPN in May, as well as her first time working for ESPN in her hometown. She’ll be with fellow anchors Jay Harris and Lisa Kerney as well as analyst Jay Walker and reporter Tiffany Greene.

The broadcasting veteran, who came to ESPN after two years at NESN in Boston, was previously on the air in Atlanta in various TV and radio roles for a decade.

“I’m super grateful for a million reasons, and obviously that it’s in my home town is icing on the cake,” said Duncan, who is spending four days in the area that will include visiting friends and family, hosting the official welcome dinner and attending the mayor’s ball.

She heard she would be making the trip about a month ago.

Atlanta is a city that’s filled with so much tradition, particularly for HBCUs. Being in Atlanta, I’ve been to the battle of the bands, and I’ve done some hosting elements for it, and I understand why Atlanta is such a unique place to have an HBCU bowl game. – Duncan on Atlanta as site of the Celebration Bowl

“I remembered the inaugural Celebration Bowl from a year ago,” she said. “I just started going to people with ideas or suggestions of some cool things they could do or maybe some stories that would be uniquely Atlanta that they could share.

“Then after some more conversations, they decided to send me,” she said.

For Duncan, the granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airman, the significance of the Celebration Bowl for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is especially meaningful.

“Atlanta is a city that’s filled with so much tradition, particularly for HBCUs,” she said. “Being in Atlanta, I’ve been to the battle of the bands, and I’ve done some hosting elements for it, and I understand why Atlanta is such a unique place to have an HBCU bowl game.

“But I also think HBCUs deserve the attention for what they do,” she said. “It’s easy to kind of overlook what these kids go through to play something they love. You go to an FBS school like Ohio State, and you understand you’re going to get a lot of attention and at least a shot at going pro. But for a lot of these kids, they simply play for the love of the game.”

Remarkable story of injured player Devon Gales to be featured Saturday
Devon Gales (seated);Standing, L-R: Tom Rinaldi, UGA program coordinator Bryan Gantt,  Kristen Lappas. :Back: Camera operators Terence O’Kane and Matt Knapp (Kristen Lappas/ESPN)
Devon Gales (seated); Standing, L-R: Tom Rinaldi; UGA program coordinator Bryan Gantt; Producer Kristen Lappas. Back: Camera operators Terence O’Kane and Matt Knapp (Kristen Lappas/ESPN)

During Saturday morning’s SportsCenter on the Road from the Celebration Bowl, a feature will air on the story of Southern University wide receiver Devon Gales, who was critically injured in a game against Georgia on Sept. 26, 2015. Following the feature, Gales’ parents will join anchors Jay Harris and Lisa Kerney on the set.

Devon Gales, now in a wheelchair, lives in Atlanta where he undergoes therapy. But as viewers will learn, even though he was on the opposing team, he has basically been “adopted” by the Georgia Bulldogs.

Kristen Lappas, who produced the piece for the ESPN Features Unit, said that reporter Tom Rinaldi had been communicating with the Gales family over the summer about telling Devon’s story.

“We’ve done stories that are similar in nature in terms of athletes that have experienced life-altering injuries during a game and the challenges that they’ve faced in their recoveries but what made this story so unique to Tom and to myself is the relationship between Georgia and Devon,” said Lappas.

“Because Devon ended up staying in Athens for a month and then in the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, really the support system that he had throughout all of this and the people that he truly felt helped him mentally and spiritually is the University of Georgia, their football players, their coaches and their staff, who he now calls family.

“We were with him for three days and he is just a phenomenal, phenomenal person,” she said.

“That was something that we found transcended any rivalry,” she said. “The story brought these two programs together, obviously in the most unlikely of ways, and that relationship has progressed over the last year and a half.”

By Andy Hall

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