University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and his wife, Mary Beth, will donate $1 million to their alma mater to support the UGA Athletic Association’s new social justice program, create scholarships for senior student-athletes whose final seasons were impacted by COVID-19, and contribute to the expansion of the UGA football program.
“Mary Beth and I are where we are because of the University of Georgia, so we feel a duty to give back to the university that opened so many doors for us, brought us together and brought us home,” said Kirby Smart. “The current moment presents unique challenges for all of us, whether that’s dealing with the ramifications of this pandemic or acknowledging and addressing racial inequality. We hope this gift can fuel positive change in both areas.”
The Smarts joined Detroit Lions quarterback and former UGA standout Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly, to endow UGA Athletics’ new social justice program. The goal of the program is to continue developing an environment to effect meaningful change in the areas of diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice for all of the Association’s members, including student-athletes, coaches and staff.
“Coach Smart and Mary Beth, from their student-athlete days to today, have been exemplary Georgia Bulldogs, and this gift is yet another demonstration of their strong commitment to UGA,” said J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity. “Their commitments will enhance the athletic and life-skills training our football student-athletes receive, maintain our high standards for diversity and inclusion, and ensure that senior student-athletes derailed by COVID-19 face no financial barriers to return and finish their Bulldog athletic careers.”
Many student-athletes saw their seasons canceled or postponed this year as part of public health precautions to protect against COVID-19. As a result, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility and lifted team financial aid limits so that senior student-athletes could return and complete their final seasons of eligibility at UGA. But with a pandemic-related financial shortfall impacting the Athletic Association’s budgets, UGA Athletics faced a challenge: finding new funding avenues to support those returning student-athletes.
This is where the Smarts stepped in, dedicating a portion of their gift to defraying the costs associated with returning seniors whose spring and fall activities were impacted by COVID-19.
“It is tremendously heartening to see former UGA student-athletes like Coach Smart and Mary Beth supporting today’s student-athletes,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “UGA prides itself on providing our students a world-class educational experience, and that experience extends beyond the classroom. The Smart family’s gift will help to address several important extracurricular concerns that are vital to the success of our student-athletes.”
The final portion of the Smarts’ gift will support the Butts-Mehre Expansion Project, which will expand and renovate all aspects of football operations at UGA. The project will, among other improvements, expand the weight room and add a locker room, meeting rooms, coaches’ offices and a sports medicine facility to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
The Smarts are no strangers to charitable giving, having created the Kirby Smart Family Foundation in 2016. The foundation, whose mission is “to be champions in our community by supporting and giving back to needy children and families facing adversity,” has given over $1 million to more than 50 charities across Georgia.