One tradition might have come to an end, but Tiger football fans are running with the tailgating tradition at Lewis Field Stadium.
Construction on campus last year brought about the end of TailGreat, a longtime annual event with Fort Hays State University, the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and community sponsors. But this season, the residence halls are completed and FHSU Athletics is offering for the first time reserved tailgating spaces.
FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke said approximately 70 reserved spots have been purchased so far at a cost of $100 for the season. The reserved parking spots are all adjacent to a grassy area, but tailgating is not limited to just those spots.
By 5 p.m. Thursday — two hours before the start of the Tigers’ first home game against Central Missouri — the parking lot was filing up with tents, grills and Tiger football fans from near and far.
Student groups and community businesses and organizations gathered throughout the parking lot, flying Tiger flags and wearing black and gold. Music blared from truck speakers, and cold drinks were consumed.
“We’re trying to bring an organizational approach to the chaos,” Hammeke said early in the evening.
TailGreat brought the festive atmosphere to each season’s first home game, but Hammeke and Tammy Wellbrock, executive director of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, said it was time to expand on that.
“As with every event, there comes a time to rethink it and regroup and reframe,” Wellbrock said.
That time for TailGreat came last summer, when the university wasn’t certain the paved parking lot at Lewis Field would be finished in time for the first home game, she said. Discussions between the university and chamber led to the decision to end TailGreat and re-evaluate.
“I’m thrilled we have the momentum that takes us through every game of the season and not just one big celebration,” she said.
“I think as the football program improves, the atmosphere surrounding that improves,” Hammeke said. “So we want to make sure we have things in place to coincide with the success of our football program.”
Two Tiger dads agreed with that.
Larry Naser, father of defensive lineman Kiel Simas, said FHSU could rival Pittsburg State University’s enthusiasm for tailgating.
“It’s just all about getting people out here and getting them excited about the football. If you’re not excited about the football, you’re not good at tailgating,” he said.
Naser drove up from Texas for the Tigers’ first home game of the season and said he goes to every single FHSU game. He and other FHSU family members and friends had a spot near the parking lot entrance along the street. A tent and grill and his homemade corn-hole boards adorned with the Tiger mascot and his son’s number, 93, attracted passersby to join in.
“That’s what it’s all about, making new friends,” Naser said.
On the grass near the entrance of Lewis Field, Blake Talley, Colorado Springs, also was joined by family and parents of FHSU players. Talley is the father of offensive lineman Travis Talley.
Talley said he’s set up at the same spot for three years and was happy to see tailgating grow at FHSU.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of excitement in the program, and I think the community is rallying around this team,” he said as he placed some pork and buffalo sausages and brats on the grill.
“As the community supports the team, I think the team is going to recognize that and want to do even better. They’ll want to work even harder for their community,” he said.
Talley said he, too, will be traveling to every game this season, his son’s senior year. And tailgating will be part of it.
“We just want to feed everybody. Anybody who shows up, we just want to have fun with them,” he said. “And we’re hoping they’ll win tonight.”
And that they did, defeating No. 13-ranked Central Missouri, 35-6.