Homecoming Tailgates provide a sense of community for fans

Tailgate parties have been a major part of college football tradition for nearly 145 years.

According to the American Tailgater Association, tailgating has existed, in some form, since the first football game, which was between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869.

A “delicate balance between fandom and celebration,” as defined by the American Tailgater Association, “tailgating” is an American tradition defined by food and drinks, friends, family and football. While many elements of tailgating have evolved — trucks have replaced horse-drawn wagons, jerseys and team sweatshirts substitute leather tunics and formalwear — the spirit has remained the same.

Through all these years of tailgating, it’s no surprise that the traditions and norms of tailgate parties have changed and diversified. The University is no exception, having had many generations of tailgaters over the years.

Maurice Watkins and Edward Vaughn, two members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, are new to the tailgating experience. The two went to the Oct. 8 Purdue game to support the Illini with their fraternity brothers from the Purdue chapter.

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“For this specific tailgate, our fraternity had a visiting chapter come down here from Purdue,” said Vaughn, a senior in Engineering. “They’re coming down here so we’re gonna make sure to have a good time.”

Kappa Alpha Psi always tailgates during homecoming weekend to welcome back its alumni members, Vaughn and Watkins said.

“We definitely always have a couple grills going, and music,” said Watkins, senior in Business. “It will be on a larger scale for homecoming though, so I would imagine us having a bigger area too.”

Amid tents, grills, a truck stereo blasting music and tables lined with food, the fraternity’s tailgate was abundant with the most important amenity, according to Watkins: the right people.

“For me it’s honestly the people, because you can get food anywhere around here, you can get drinks and stuff, but I feel like it’s just that atmosphere, the people who are running it,” he said.

For veteran tailgaters Pam Starwalt and Brian Mosley, who live in the area, tailgating has become a way of life.

Starwalt and Mosley have been tailgating at the University for more than 30 years.

Mosley said that preparation is critical when setting up a tailgate.

“Always be prepared for the change in weather in Illinois,” he said. “You’ll need stuff like tarps to block the wind — prepare for rain and cold weather.”

But aside from shelter, Mosley said that entertainment is one of the most important parts of a great tailgate party.

“At our particular tailgate, we have two televisions and a stereo. Our people love it, because they get to watch other games whether they’re going to the Illini game or not,” he said. “We always have a grill and crock pots going. We got the best food, the best TVs and the best friends.”

Mosley added that as well as meeting with friends, tailgating is a great way to meet new people.

“Football season and tailgating allow you to get to know people at other tailgates that you wouldn’t have even otherwise met,” he said.

“When they get on the field, the teams are trying to knock each other out, but out here the fans just help each other out and have a good time. Even if it’s the opposing team.”

Josh can be reached at [email protected].