Football season brings tailgating

The football season is here, and that means a lot of things are happening at football stadiums around the county, region and state.

Friday night lights are on, and the parking lots are full of fans getting ready for the night’s big game. When Saturday comes, fans flock to their favorite colleges for round 2, and by the time the pros hit the field, all the football-loving masses are ready for a Sunday afternoon spent with family and friends enjoying a game among the gridiron greats.

Sure, some spectators walk into the stadium ready for the contest, but there are a chosen few hanging out in parking lots near the sites of the Autumn’s spectator sports. Here, friends and family gather among folding chairs, mountains of snack food and rally their spirit as part of a perennial pre-game past-time — TAILGATING!

Yes, “Tailgate Time” is here, and whether fans are following, high school, college or pro teams, there is no better way to prepare for a game than by building a little team spirit with a little parking lot part before kick-off.

But what makes a good tailgate? Is it food served? Or is it the people gathered for the get-together that make the difference? Actually, it’s both.

“A variety of food and wonderful fellowship with other friends,” said Terry Kuchenbekcer, a regular tailgater at Newton-Conover High. “It’s just a wonderful great time. Everybody has football fever, especially for Newton-Conover High School football. It’s been a great tradition for years and years.”

The menu Friday at Newton-Conover featured a variety of food and plenty of friends — more than a dozen. There was pizza, hot wings, vegetables, a cake and bratwurst. Kuchenbecker, who grew up in Wisconsin, said the latter was a staple at every tailgate before going into Lambeau Field to watch the Packers play.

“Johnsonville brats are the greatest, and we always cook them,” he said. “The key is a lot of good times and a lot of good food.”

The atmosphere of the tailgate is also a key ingredient to a solid tailgating experience. Jeff Kaylor said, “You can’t go wrong with good friends. You can eat anywhere, but you have to have friends.”

“Meeting new friends is always a great time, and the younger generation is always fun to be with us,” Kuchenbecker said. “When they get older, they’ll always remember tailgating at high school football games.”

The younger generation includes Kristen Kaylor and Madison McKenzie — two students at Concordia Christian School but still out to enjoy a good time.

“I think having the grill out here and a whole bunch of food, hanging out and talking to a whole bunch of people makes for a good time,” said Kristen Kaylor.

“I like all the people here and getting back together with people from before,” McKenzie said. “All the people getting together brings everyone back each week.”

Kaylor said her family joined the group several years ago when her older brother, Matthew, played football at Newton-Conover. McKenzie, however, was in her first time at the tailgate. She had fun meeting the new people on her first time.

Newton-Conover isn’t the only county high school where friends gather for tailgating festivities. At St. Stephens High School Indian fans and families of players assemble for contests to enjoy a pre-game meal.

“It is something different to do to get us out of the house,”said Gary Beiland, who gathered with his family to for a pre-game meal at St. Stephens, where his son is Dylan is an Indian quarterback. “We enjoy the camaraderie and being outside.”

The Beilands assembled with other Indians’ parents before several St. Stephens games last year, and after opening the the 2010 season with a pre-game picnic, they said they planned to do it again.

At Bandys, tailgating time is almost legendary. There, Trojans supporters break out their grills and party tables and fill their bellies with food. It is all part of the fun outside Garry Butler Memorial Stadium before the green and gold take the field.

Jeff Kaylor said none of the members of the tailgate has a football player currently on the roster, but they keep coming back because it is “the thing to do” on Friday nights.

Tailgating is fun, but it is also a serious business. A lot of preparation each week goes into the pre-game festivities. Jeff Kaylor, Kristen’s father, said his wife sends out e-mails and Facebook messages each week to get everything ready for Friday nights. The messages include menus and the theme of the night. Then everyone shows up, parties and wanders into the football game.

“Anybody can show up, but to have a good tailgate takes a group of people to pull it off,” Jeff Kaylor said.