The newly-renovated home side bleachers at George S. Johnson Memorial Stadium were jammed to capacity Friday night as the Viking Nation celebrated an historic occasion.

An estimated 3,000 people showed up for the dedication ceremony honoring Austin Childers, a 2009 graduate who has battled mitochondrial disease since his seventh grade year.

During the ceremony, the football field was named Austin Childers Field, and Childers himself arrived  to the stadium via ambulance from a local hospice facility. A standing ovation greeted him as emergency personnel wheeled Austin to midfield, where he was joined by his family and dozens of Austin’s classmates, along with former FPD football players and cheerleaders.

Following opening remarks from headmaster Gregg Thompson and board chair Saynor Foshee, head coach Greg Moore praised Childers for his optimism and courage in the face of adversity, and FPD grad and State Representative Allen Peake read a proclamation in honor of Childers on behalf of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

“You have been a hero to many, including me,” Deal wrote, “and I thank you for the testimony of a life well-lived. To God be the glory.”

Moore then introduced special guest speaker Bill Curry, who spoke for several minutes about how Childers’ legacy of faith, hope and courage has left a permanent impact on thousands of lives.

“It’s an understatement to say that Austin has had a good impact on an awful lot of people,” Moore said. “The evidence is in the crowd we had (Friday) and all the folks we had here to honor him, and rightfully so … He’s a brilliant young man and God has used him in ways that I don’t even think Austin can understand.”

Afterward, FPD chaplain Charley Chase read remarks from Austin, the text of which is below.

To see photos from the event, check the photo gallery on the FPD Flickr page.

Paraphrasing the great Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig, “Today I consider myself the most Blessed man on the face of the Earth”.  I find it difficult to express how I am feeling.  The words that come to my mind when thinking about tonight are Grace, Humility and Love. 

Outside of my family, First Presbyterian Day School and my friends are the greatest blessings in my life.

Even though this football field is named after me, it is really about you and the mission of FPD. 

I never thought my name would be synonymous with FPD and equipping the world for God’s glory. 

But God so graciously saw fit to allow my life to be used in this way.

I can remember laying in my bed in the children’s hospital late one fall night during my sophomore year.

I was feeling especially lonely that night, because it was the night we beat Stratford and I was stuck in the hospital by myself.

And then, out of the dark hallway, my teammates appeared. They crowded around my hospital bed, laughing and telling me all about the game. And then, coach Moore handed me the game ball that all the guys had signed.

I still have the ball and still see the score of that game in black ink, and it makes me smile.

I think about that night a lot, because my teammates chose to celebrate their big moment with me. They always made me feel like I belonged, even though I never played a down.

I’d like to close by telling you how much I LOVE YOU!  I’ve been asked before if I’d trade my illness for a healthy life; I know that without mitochondrial disease I would not have the lasting relationships God has so richly blessed me with.

FPD is more than a school to me. It has been a source of strength during my darkest times, a constant reminder of God’s unfailing love.

It is why I can identify with the apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Through every trial, every setback, every heartbreak, my FPD family has been at my side, praying, laughing and crying right along with me.

My life is richer because of each of you.

This night, and your friendship, means more to me than I could ever express. Thank you for simply being there when I needed you the most.

I will always love you for it, and I’m so proud God made me a Viking.