Every college and university has a unique culture, so student initiation into college life varies depending on where you go. From holding vigil over the graffiti rocks at Northwestern University to learning how to do the Gator chomp at the University of Florida to having a conditioned response to say “war eagle” at the mere mention of Auburn University, every school is different.
However, there is one rite of passage that is present in any college community. I’m not talking about matriculation, keg stands, or even graduation. No, the real rite of passage for any self-respecting college student is to go tailgating at least once during his or her college career.
What Is Tailgating
If you are already a college student, I pray that you would not really be asking this question. But if you’re not sure, here’s a quick low-down on this crucial, collegiate activity. Tailgating is the party that happens in the parking lot before (and sometimes after) major events. Tailgating is most common at sports competitions, but many folks also like to tailgate at concerts and other types of festivals.
Typically, tailgaters get to the stadium or arena about four hours before the start of the game or concert. Beverages, finger food, and anything grilled are common fare among most tailgating circles. While tailgating, people show their support for the band or team that they are there to see. They also play yard games like the ever-popular cornhole and socialize with other passionate fans.
When To Tailgate
Anytime your school has a sporting event is a good time to tailgate. College football games are perhaps the most common tailgating events but other sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and hockey are also known for their pre-game party atmosphere. Even if the weather is not that great, chances are there will still be diehard fans tailgating before the game. So throw on a poncho and boots or gloves and a scarf and get out and join them!
Now that you know the basics of tailgating, here are 14 tips to turn you into a college tailgating pro!
- Arrive early. Tailgaters are intense. No matter what time you arrive, there will already be people there in full party mode. Arrive as early as you can to ensure you have plenty of space. You’ll want all your friends to park close by, so check to see if there are enough spots. Plus, you’ll need time to set up your gear (tables, chairs, canopies, food, etc.) and you’ll need time to tear down before heading into the game.
- Bring something to identify your tailgate. When your friends call, wondering where you are, you can say something like, “We’re in lot D2. Look for the red and yellow balloons.”
- Get your food ready the night before. This will help cut down on the game day stress. Marinate and skewer your kebabs, shape burger patties and frost cupcakes.
- Remember the golden rule of food service: KEEP HOT FOODS HOT AND COLD FOODS COLD! Has that egg salad been sitting out in the sun for more than an hour? Was your meat stored properly? Is everything fully cooked? If you aren’t sure, don’t eat it no matter how hungry you are. It won’t be worth the consequences.
- You can never have enough ice, so bring more bags than you think you’ll need. Everyone wants their drinks to be cold. If you have extra you can make someone else’s day by sharing.
- If you are grilling, bring a metal bucket for still-glowing coals. The bucket can also be full of water while you’re grilling for emergencies.
- If the weather is cold, bring plenty of thermoses of soup, hot cocoa and cider. Dress for the weather and bring extra cold weather gear for friends who are less prepared.
- Have a first aid kit handy. Band-aids, Advil, gauze wraps, alcohol wipes, and the like are all good for small emergencies. Remember that most stadiums have official first aid tents as well.
- Bring plenty of water! Not everyone drinks alcohol at a tailgate, so bring alternatives. And water is great to stay hydrated, so drink plenty of it even during cooler months.
- Don’t forget the parking lot games. Cornhole is, perhaps, the most popular tailgating game. Nearly every group you pass will be tossing bags. If your tailgating party is large, consider drawing up a cornhole tournament. You can bring brackets to help keep things organized. Without a little structure, the “kids” could be fighting over the bags! Other games could be fun too—beer pong, washers, ladder golf. And don’t forget the basics; tossing a football around or playing catch with a baseball might be all the entertainment your group needs.
- Make new friends. Tailgaters are some of the friendliest people out there, so don’t be shy; introduce yourself to fellow fans. Inviting your new friends to play a round of cornhole or beer pong (see number 10) is a great way to bond.
- Bring your phone charger with a car adapter. Your phone is indispensable at a tailgate because friends will be calling you to find out where to park and you’ll want to be able to take pictures of the actual game too!
- Know the stadium’s rules about tailgating. Most arenas are pretty laid-back with tailgaters, but some do have restrictions against glass bottles, open fires, and other considerations. Find out what the rules are before you go or you can ask other tailgaters once you get there.
- Have fun and cheer on your team! Tailgating should be fun, first and foremost, so enjoy the party atmosphere and cheer your team on to victory!
You can’t graduate college without attending at least one tailgating party. Bonus points if you host the gig. Get out there, socialize, meet new people and be part of a universal college experience.
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