Disabled fan longs for better seating after renovation

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Story by Kat Ladwig and photos by Matt Masin, NewsNetNebraska

In 1971, Doug Church sat in the general seating area at Memorial Stadium to watch his first Nebraska football game versus Colorado. Six years later, Church stood at the 40-yard line among the other 75,899 screaming Husker fans while Nebraska took on Alabama.

During the Huskers versus Huskies match-up Saturday, Church dwelled under the north stadium seats. Tucked away behind a cage-like barrier facing the field, trying to squirm and inch around the media photographers who like to camp out in front of Church’s wheelchair. If it’s not the photographers in the way, the big camera stands set up by television stations blind half the view of the field.

“I spend $70 on these tickets, and then we get blocked most of the game by the media,” Church said.

At least there’s still the Huskervision big screen, right? Wrong. The big screen is located directly above the handicap accessibility section, invisible to Church and other disabled football fans. He and his wife watched the rollercoaster of a game from a dimly lit wind tunnel. An incomplete pass in the red zone from Martinez was the highlight of the third quarter, since the ball bounced a foot from Church’s feet. The rest of the 51-38 Nebraska victory had to be seen on the two smaller screens framing the south stadium.

“I miss the big screen,” Church’s wife, Patty, said. “I miss the excitement and the feel of the crowd.’

Church, 52, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago and became confined to his wheelchair in 2008. That didn’t stop the longtime Husker fans from buying Nebraska football tickets. But the limited game view does put a damper on their weekend trips from Bladen, 140 miles southwest of Memorial Stadium.

“I love to be in the stands,” Church said. “This is fine, but I can’t wait for the east stadium to get finished.”

Although expansion to create more seating for disabled fans in the north stadium was completed in 2006, the new east stadium expansion project includes seating for the disabled section above ground level, according to Church. He wants to get tickets in the east stadium once it’s completed so he can enjoy Big Ten games from beyond the cage.

“I’m sure it’ll take some big donations to get seats up there,” Church said. “I’m just hoping to even be considered.”

1 Response

  1. Dan Andrew says:

    I can relate to Doug Church. I am a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. Attended the 1983 NU vs UCLA game to watch the “triplets”. Was seated in the fourth row back of wheelchairs in the old driveway in the northwest corner. That was even before the north endzone was used for chairs. I decided then it was more advantageous to listen on the radio or watch on tv as I could see better. I have attend ball games at KState, CU and Wyo with much better seating that UNL has.

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