Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Jill Whittington lives behind enemy lines, so to speak. She rarely gets the chance to watch Georgia Tech football on television in Texas, let alone in person, because it's difficult to work around her family schedule and she lives far away.
But you're not keeping her completely away from Bobby Dodd Stadium.
She was there last Saturday, at Fan Day, snapping pictures like crazy and chasing down two very important autographs with her only opportunity this year to commune with the Yellow Jackets.
It was quite the highlight for the 1998 materials science graduate, who did happen to be watching on TV last fall when Tech beat Georgia on Qua Searcy's last-minute, diving touchdown.
"I got Paul Johnson and Qua," said Whittington, who in her time on The Flats went by the last name of Tucker. "I printed out one of the pictures [of the game-winning score] that I got off the web. That's what I had [Qua] sign. He signed his name and number."
Whittington signed up in 1993 for Georgia Tech, and she remains as committed to the Jackets as possible for someone who steers a family of four in Texarkana.
Her family frequently attends Tech bowl games, when her schedule is more flexible, and they were in Jacksonville when the Jackets beat Kentucky on New Year's Eve.
That, in fact, was quite special.
"It was so fun to be at the TaxSlayer Bowl when news came that [the men's basketball team] had beaten North Carolina," Whittington said. "That's when we knew this was going to be a little different. I later [in the season] told my husband never thought I'd be so excited to be going to the NIT."
Life as a metallurgist keeps one busy enough and with two sons who are high-level competitive swimmers, it's difficult to fit in regular season games.
Jill and James Whittington, who both grew up in Eleanor, W.Va., and their sons Nathan and Seth, are usually locked down on Saturdays in the fall.
"We're always at a pool," she said. "My oldest hopes to swim [in NCAA] Division II."
Amid the chaos of her life, Whittington had some work obligations in Tennessee last week and, ahead of that, she did some noodling around on the internet. Mindful that Fan Day was to be on Aug. 12, she made a bonus discovery, when she found "it was cheaper to fly into and out of Atlanta" and rent a car.
Having never been to a Fan Day, she enjoyed the experience even though "it was really hot."
Speaking of warming up, Whittington hopes to find a way to attend a Georgia Tech basketball game in McCamish Pavilion. As a student, in fact, she was first more a fan of basketball than football, but her co-ops eventually made it difficult to attend games in old Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
She hasn't been to a hoops game on The Flats since graduating, which means she's never been at a contest inside McCamish, which opened in 2012. She did take in a Tech game at Tennessee in 2003 before her company transferred her to Texas.
"The resurgence this past year has everyone more excited than in years," Whittington said. "I'm going to try to get to a game."
Tech and Tucker clicked from the jump. She first visited campus between her junior and senior years of high school and it was nearly a seminal event.
"I wanted out of West Virginia. I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn't know what kind," Whittington recalled. "I remember walking down the steps of the student center toward the post office and it was completely comfortable. I don't know how else to say that. I said, `I'll be here.' "
Her spirit remains on The Flats.
When able to make it to Atlanta, she always visits friends and former classmates. She wanted to bring them to Fan Day. Here's where you can see that she's a special Yellow Jackets fan who will take all the Tech that she can get.
"Unfortunately, I live deep in SEC country and usually we're the game that gets bumped [from TV]," Whittington said. "I'm the one in the house who turns on college football at 8 a.m. and leaves it on until bed. I watch on apps and the computer, maybe watch the play-by-play.
"I invited a few friends [to Fan Day] and they don't go [to games] and don't keep up with it. It doesn't make sense to me."