Debunking tailgating myths
By: Karuga Koinange, Editor-In-Chief
Something can’t return if it never left, but when it comes to tailgating at Towson University, the misconception of its revival has spread throughout the community.
Yet, there is one crucial detail to point out: tailgating never actually went away.
“We’ve struggled and had to fight hard to overcome that perception…we want people to come to the games and tailgate and have a good time,” said Athletic Director Tim Leonard. “That’s what a football game is. They’re one in the same. You can’t have a football game without tailgating.”
The idea that tailgating was banned or suspended stemmed from an incident that took place several years ago.
In September of 2014, a student injury at a tailgate along with several crowded and rowdy tailgates, led to rumors that members of the university administration were considering eliminating tailgating.
After deliberation with student leaders, rather than eradicating tailgating, the President’s Council decided to implement stricter guidelines for the rest of the year.
Students were required to take a safety seminar before obtaining a parking pass, no pickup trucks were allowed, no open containers were allowed and students who were of-age were limited to just one six-pack of beer or 24 ounces of wine.
Also, TUPD would do sweeps of the parking lots in order to monitor fans before and after the game.
The only remaining policies from that time are the restriction to one six-pack of beer or 24 ounces of wine and the security sweeps conducted by TUPD.
Though tailgating never actually went away and some of those new guidelines only lasted for a few months, the damage had already been done. The misconception that tailgating was banned had made its way into the ether of Towson and spread like a wildfire over the following years.
In the years since, Towson has revamped tailgating by working with Parking and Transportation Services to create a system for fans who attend games. Leonard said that stadium parking policies have become more structured as well.
Instead of choosing freely where to park, fans must take one spot after the other in order to make sure the parking lot is being used efficiently.
Leonard affirmed that security measures have also been altered in recent years. He said that along with TUPD maintaining a police presence in parking lots on game days, there are staff who execute bag checks before people are allowed to enter the stadium.
Vice President of Student Affairs Deb Moriarty said tailgating can become challenging to monitor when the activity is blurred as an excuse to just drink alcohol. She wants students to have a memorable experience without drinking excessively.
“Our hope is that students will come up and take advantage of pregame activities, but will actually be there to support our football team,” Moriarty said.
Towson University President Kim Schatzel stressed that having a good tailgating experience is essential to enjoying the game.
“The gameday experience starts when you pull into the parking lot,” Schatzel said.
Leonard asserted that Towson has a great setup for tailgating because various parking lots near gameday stadiums are surrounded by grass, leaving room for fans to set up lawn chairs and play games.
Fans can also compete at tailgates to see who has the best setup. This friendly competition has especially become common in Lot 21, which is located near the Towson Center and is a popular attraction for alumni.
“It’s been fun to see that tradition grow over the last few years, particularly in Lot 21,” Leonard said. “The alums are really getting into it trying to outdo each other with the setup. It’s a totally different atmosphere.”
Though alumni engagement is significant, Towson has implemented a new attraction this season that is tailored toward students: Tiger Zone.
According to Student Engagement Coordinator Alexa Herman, Tiger Zone will be located in Lot 13 near Johnny Unitas Stadium, and is essentially a tailgating village for students each home game. It will have a DJ tent, free food, games, a photo station and giveaways of items such as foam fingers and koozies.
Towson also aims to increase student engagement and attendance with different themes for home games for various Towson athletics programs. Deputy Director of Athletic Operations Will Huff said that the athletics department is open to suggestions from students about event ideas and themes.
The most notable annual theme for Towson is the men’s basketball autism awareness game, which was started by Head Coach Pat Skerry in 2012. In last season’s game, coaches on both teams donned puzzle piece pins (the official logo of autism awareness) and the Tigers sported blue jerseys (the official color of autism awareness).
Towson also held a diversity workshop focused on autism to educate students about the topic.
Huff said that Towson strives to make each sporting event more than just a game.
“It’s not just about Division I competition,” Huff said. “It’s also linked to the community and it’s linked to causes that we’re passionate about.”
Towson’s first home football game is against The Citadel on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The theme for that game is “Gold Rush” and the first 1,000 students to enter the stadium will receive a free gold t-shirt.
Head Coach Rob Ambrose emphasized that fans have a strong impact on the game, whether it’s during the game or showing up pregame in flocks to tailgate.
“There is nothing that brings energy to the players more than the fans,” Ambrose said. “They bring noise and energy which makes you want to play harder. It’s electric.”
With the accommodations made with Tiger Zone to entice more students to attend games, Leonard looks for people to understand that tailgating is not reserved for one specific group of people. He urged that everyone is welcome.
“We want everyone to know that there is a place for them,” Leonard said. “Everybody is wanting a different experience. At the end of the day what they want is a fun, positive experience where they can come together as Towson. They want to come together and have some pride. It’s the one thing they have in common: Towson.”