In Kalamazoo, 'GameDay' brings joy at end of tragic year

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — This West Michigan city has made national news multiple times this year, but, sadly, because of tragedy.

It's been an awfully tough year for Kalamazoo, starting with the Uber driver who went on a shocking shooting rampage in February, killing six. Then in June, five bicyclists were killed when they were run over by an allegedly drugged driver.

"We had a rough year," said longtime Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard, a lifelong Kalamazoo resident. "Everybody is ready for something that you can really rally around and something in the world that we can put our hands on.

"And for us to have this right now ... it is big."

ESPN cameras and reporters are on campus all week, leading up to Saturday's live broadcast of "ESPN GameDay" at Western Michigan — only the second trip by "GameDay" to a Mid-American Conference school, and first in over a decade.

WMU, at 10-0, is one of two unbeaten teams left in the nation, joining Alabama.

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The Broncos take on Buffalo at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Waldo Stadium. "GameDay" goes live early in the morning, from the mall in front of Sangren Hall. A crowd of more than 10,000 is expected for "GameDay," which runs 9 a.m. to noon, before a sellout crowd of more than 30,000 takes in the game.

"I would say we've had some pretty special things in town," Beauregard said. "But this is probably the most exciting, because it's so special."

Because WMU was on the road last week, it will hold a Veterans Day tribute before the game, with a flyover. WMU also is calling it "Heroes Day," and a group of donors bought up a lot of tickets to distribute to first responders from the Kalamazoo tragedies in February and June.

Donors distributed those tickets to law-enforcement and other agencies, six in all, Wednesday afternoon.