College football came a week early to Aiken.
On Friday night, The Alley came alive with the rumble of “Tiger Rag” and “2001,” the sounds of people laughing and having a good time, and the smells of chicken and beer – all among a sea of orange, garnet and a little bit of red and black.
The purpose of the Pep Rally in The Alley college football kickoff held more of a somber note, though. The event was held to raise money for the purchase of a police canine in memory of Aiken Public Safety Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in January 2012.
Rogers' sister, Jenny Johnson, said Rogers had a special connection with dogs, and earlier this year, Johnson began a campaign to purchase a new police dog for Aiken Public Safety to be named “Sandman” in Rogers' honor.
The cost for a new puppy and training is about $8,000, but event coordinators are confident they surpassed that with Friday's fundraiser.
Dr. Philip Jordan of Aiken Physical Medicine, one of the event's sponsors, said people love coming to events in which The Alley is closed off to traffic.
He and several other businesses decided to put on a college football kickoff, complete with tailgating goodies, a mobile video game station and cornhole tournaments, as well as the Aiken High School-Strom Thurmond football game, which was broadcast on a projection screen.
An hour or so into Friday's event, Jordan said he was pleased with the turnout. He hopes to make it an annual event, with a different fundraiser benefiting each year.
“Anytime a community has something tragic happen like what happened with Scotty Richardson and Sandy Rogers, you really have to pull together,” he said. “Anytime we get a chance to be a part of something like that, we're totally on board.”
Also on board with Friday's event was the USC Aiken men's basketball team, which donned their own school colors.
“It's a new community event,” head coach Vince Alexander said. “We want to try to get out in the community and meet people. They give us a lot of support, so we want to try and give back.”
Rogers was among those supporters, and Alexander said her family members are avid supporters of Pacer athletics.
“Sandy came to all the games,” he said. “She sat right back up toward the back of the court. She was always there as much as she could be.”
The number of sports themes in the air at The Alley on Friday night were a tribute to one of Rogers' greatest loves.
“She would have loved this,” said Bill Johnson, Rogers' nephew. “She was an all-around sports fan.”
Johnson said Rogers particularly loved the Clemson Tigers, the Atlanta Braves and the Augusta GreenJackets. She also had a soft spot for dogs, making the goal of Friday's event even more appropriate.
“She loved dogs. She always rescued dogs,” Johnson said. “When she was alive, she had up to six dogs that she would go out and rescue. ... The dogs that people don't take care of, she took care of.”
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Pep Rally in The Alley on Friday was held to raise money to purchase a police dog in memory of Aiken Public Safety officers Sandy Rogers. The festivities included a cornhole tournament.×
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Corna McDonald, from left, Frazer Shand, Gemma Goulding and Kim Becker share drinks and laughs at the Pep Rally in The Alley on Friday.×
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Yates Coleman, from left, Betsy Anderson, Jack Coleman, Mary Coleman, Kim Becker and Sophie Aguilar take a break from the good times to pose for a picture at Friday’s Pep Rally in The Alley.×