LAWRENCEVILLE - Plunking down $6,000 for a Gwinnett Gladiator hockey jersey was not part of the plan when Debbie Betourney attended the third annual "Jersey Off Our Backs Charity Auction," but that's what happened.
"I never imagined I was going to spend more than $3,000, but I wanted it (for my friend)," Betourney said.
The Lawrenceville resident bought that specific jersey Sunday for her friend and colleague, Patti Bradly, because Bradly is "in love" with goaltender Sean Fields and because the money would go back into the community to help children in need - her passion.
Betourney said Bradly works tirelessly as co-director at Bridging the Gap, a child intervention program, and would never splurge on something like this herself, although she deserved it.
The auction is the main fundraiser for the Gladiators Foundation for Kids, and all proceeds from Sunday's auction will help support the many nonprofit agencies and organizations who work with Gwinnett's children.
In its third year, the Gladiators' auction eclipsed donations from the previous two years combined, topping out at more than $46,000.
Each season the Gladiators select a theme for their annual "Jersey Off Our Backs" promotion. This season, 24 camouflage jerseys were designed as a tribute to the U.S. military. Each fetched an average of $2,000, but Guillaume Desbiens' jersey raised $3,600 and Lane Manson's jersey brought in $3,500. Goaltender Sean Fields' jersey, however, dwarfed the other bids by netting $6,000.
"I got caught in the heat of it, and I wanted that jersey (for my friend) because she is a person who never wants or asks for anything and I was determined," Betourney said of why she bid $6,000 for the jersey. "I wanted the jersey as much as the lady bidding against me. She was bidding up to $5,500."
The limited number of jerseys were worn at both Saturday's and Sunday's games and were not washed. Betourney said she was nonplussed, however, because there wasn't any blood on it.
The highlight of the evening for Betourney was after she purchased the jersey and asked Fields to stay behind for a while until Bradly returned to the Gwinnett Arena. She had left when the auction began.
"When I bought it my husband, and I asked Sean to wait for her (to return) to have a photo made," Betourney said. "It took a while to coerce her because she didn't believe me."
When Bradly finally arrived, Betourney said she ran up and gave Fields a hug, thanked him and watched him autograph the shirt.
"She was dying," Betourney said. "It was so much worth the money to see the glory on her face and her pride. I'd do it again."
In addition to auctioning the military edition jerseys, the Gladiators' military appreciation weekend also featured several other military-themed activities.
Fans were invited to inspect military vehicles from the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry unit out of Winder and other equipment on the arena plaza. Fans were also invited to interact with U.S. National Guard personnel on hand to demonstrate numerous pieces of military equipment.
On Sunday, a Black Hawk helicopter and two Huey helicopters were on display from the 1-185 Assault Battalion and the 832nd Medical Company Air Ambulance based out of Winder.
Other in-game features over the weekend included appearances by the North Georgia College and State University's Mountaineering Platoon and The Mountain Order of Colombo from North Georgia Military College, who delivered the game puck at the start of each game by rappelling down from the arena catwalk.
On Sunday afternoon the game was stopped midway through the second period, the arena lights dimmed and a reverent crowd and players stood in silence as a lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" in honor of military personnel who gave their lives in defense of the United States.