Viking Saga

Tailgating Shutdown: What’s Next for Fans?

Reasons senior lot and tailgating were shut down for fall sports and reactions from players

Ethan Hibbard and Marshall Gada

Throughout the pandemic, participation of fans at sports games has fluctuated continuously. To be sure they could watch games live, students began tailgating, or watching games from their cars. This didn’t last.
This fall at one football game, tailgate participants were told to lower the music volume they were playing from their cars. The group lowered the volume only to raise it again once security left. This, and social
distancing precautions, prompted athletic director Steve Hargis to block off entrances to tailgating locations near the senior lot and Flanders Elementary School.
“I’m the guy that started tailgating for games eight years ago, so it’s not like I don’t want it to be a success. If you can’t abide by the rules and understand that there are families who don’t want to be hearing language like that, I just can’t have it,” said Mr. Hargis. “By not abiding by the rules, they lost the privilege
for everyone else to be able to tailgate.” Even the referee stopped the game to tell
the crowd that unless they put masks on, they would have to leave.
There were other problems that led to the tailgate being closed. People from Norwich and Waterford came, increasing crowd size. “When you’re the only game in town, people start to stream in quickly,” said Mr. Hargis. The looming issue was the inability to control crowd size at the tailgate.
“By offering people tickets to the stands, I was able to control the crowd down to the right number. Once I open the tailgate up, we don’t know how many people are there. That’s when the Department of Public Health has an issue,” said Mr. Hargis. Senior athletes expressed their experiences playing with restricted fan attendance.
“You don’t get the hype and adrenaline rush you would normally get from your fans. Sometimes, it feels like more of a scrimmage in practice than a real game,” said senior field hockey player Julia Groff. Varsity football captain Patrick Tolley voiced similar thoughts.
“Having no fans really ruins the energy for home games. There’s a physical impact as well, because you
hear a lot more than you normally would. You hear more audibles and all that trash talk you might not normally hear,” said Tolley.
Though the tailgate was closed, there were still other options for students. “We always had tickets available in the stands leftover by parents that did not claim them. I’d give the security team a number of people that could be allowed to come into the stands if they asked. There were always places and ways to watch. I understand that it’s not as fun as tailgating, but realize that those are the only options we have right now,” said Mr. Hargis.
As the fall season continued, the number of fans allowed decreased to zero, coming from the governor. This left the athletic staff without leeway to continue any amount of tailgating. Some games, however, were
livestreamed or video-taped for fans. With no spectators allowed for the winter season, the next possible time to root for players live will be the spring.
“My job is to be there for everyone’s safety,” said Mr. Hargis. “I think what we need to do is find a way in which we can limit spectators. Come springtime, we are going to have to sit down and talk to see if we can control the amount of people tailgating. That’s going to be the hardest thing to do, and I’m not really sure what that looks like right now.”

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