Alabama mourns death of well-known fan with Down syndrome

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The University of Alabama sports community is mourning the death of a fan with Down syndrome who was known for his weekly football season visits to the athletic facilities and his pre-game predictions to coach Nick Saban.

The Tuscaloosa News reports 36-year-old Walt Gary died Thursday. He had been hospitalized in a coma for several days. His grandmother, Betsy Shirley, confirmed that he experienced bleeding in his brain before his death.

Gary was in sixth grade when his mother reached out to then-Alabama coach Gene Stallings, whose son, John Mark, also had Down syndrome, a genetic condition that produces several traits including intellectual disability. Stallings often invited Gary to football practices.

The visits continued for more than 20 years.

"I'm proud of the coaches and players both," Gary told ESPN in 2018. "These people are my friends and I know what they can do."

Every Thursday during the football season, Gary would arrive at the university athletic facilities and would briefly meet with Saban to give his predictions for the game that weekend.

"Walt Gary was a special part of the Alabama football program and our hearts are broken by the news of his passing," Saban said in a prepared statement. "He was beloved by everyone on our team, in our athletic department and throughout the Alabama family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and everyone who knew and loved Walt as much as we did.

Funeral arrangements were pending Friday.

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