Students take yellow school buses, not the normal campus shuttle, from the Perkins Student Center to the back end of the athletic complex. Normally, they’d flock to the bag search line to enter the Barn, the student tailgate section.
But Saturday on a dreary, rainy homecoming afternoon, students had to walk straight past and head for the student entrance in between the soccer and field hockey stadiums. They all saw the same thing.
No lights strung up, no one on the stage, no security staff in yellow jackets waiting to check ID’s. Not even a sign saying the Barn was not opening, leaving students to guess it was due to the rain.
“I wouldn’t buy beer there or anything but it’s nice to have a place for students to hang out,” a junior named Nicole said. “At least, when it’s nice out.”
The Barn is a new feature at football games this year designed to be a student tailgating area, complete with concessions, beer for students of legal age, lawn games and live music.
“It’s not that big a draw,” Ryan, a senior, said. “Why would I pay those crazy prices for a single beer when I can drink a lot more at home for a lot less?”
Delaware hasn’t had a large student tailgating presence in years. While tailgating is widely accepted as an integral part of the sports world — particularly considered a cornerstone of football traditions — Delaware students don’t appear to take part.
Bailey, a senior at the Ohio State University, doesn’t think it’s all that different at her school. Any events run by Student Life and other organizations on game day are “Sober Tailgates” for students. Anyone who drinks does so at house party “pregames.” The tailgaters outside the stadium are primarily locals, season ticket holders and alumni.
The parking lots are filled with season ticket holders and tents, and for the most part, that excludes students unless their families have tailgating spots. It’s far more common to have students trickle into the student section during the first quarter having “pregamed” at home. Many party on game day and don’t make it to the game at all.
Even the rain and wind couldn’t keep the Delaware faithful from grilling under the cover of tents. On a nice Saturday, the lots fill early, and one can look around to see footballs and frisbees in the air, smell burgers and hot dogs and hear waist-high kids in their own football jerseys, playing tag between tents.
It’s a social gathering of friends and family for an informal meal, and many are unsurprised to learn that the tradition originated in the United States.
John Sherry, a University of Notre Dame cultural anthropologist, conducted a two-year study of college tailgating and found that the parking lot parties have ties to harvest celebrations in ancient Rome and Greece, picnics during Civil War battles and modern gatherings such as camp-outs at concerts and the Occupy Wall Street encampments.
“The idea of getting out of your house and feasting and drinking somewhere else is a pretty old tradition,” Sherry said about his study in an article with USA Today.
“People eat and drink and build up community in the process. It’s one last blowout before we hunker down for winter.”
He said tailgating “is more about sharing than it is about competition,” and people who participate help build the brands of their favorite teams.
“The individual traditions that they are creating add to the larger tradition. They see it as participating in the team experience.”
This year, with Delaware football currently top-ranked in the CAA, students are being drawn back into the spirit of the game. Whether or not that means tailgating, drinking at home or going to the game simply for the game, students will find their ways to celebrate a winning team.
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