Traveling with the Team
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 30 percent of Outer Banks residents have baccalaureate (or higher) degrees which beats both the state and national averages by a few percentage points.
But we’re a peripatetic bunch too. How else do you end up on this sandbar without being willing to travel? The combination makes for a group of avid alumni who will travel for their team.
Read ahead for a glimpse at just a few of the best tailgate parties hosted by Outer Banks residents. Next, our companion article, “It’s Game On. It’s Grill On.” will whet your appetite with recipes to try on the road or right here at home.
“I think I have only missed one or two home, football games, and I can’t imagine going to one of the football games without tailgating.” ~ Rob Ladd, ODU Class 1975
Walking around a tailgate party is that chance to go back. The sheer fun of being on a campus without the workload of being a student. Somehow, that term paper you procrastinated many years ago was turned in on time and today, you don’t even remember how. There’s no thought about how many credit hours are necessary next semester in order to avoid summer school.
No, many summers have come and gone since you last thought of credit hours.
You can’t talk about fandom without talking favorites; after all, picking sides is why you’ve come back to campus in the first place. But college football will bring out strong allegiances and diehard memories of other favorites that you’ve forgotten were there.
There’s that favorite college road trip you took and never got caught (until the speeding ticket fines showed up); that favorite professor whose odd accent you still hear in your head from time to time (who knows why); or that favorite, ‘secret’ swimming hole that no one else knew about but mysteriously now, thirty years later, has a graveled path leading to it. (How did they find it?)
Advice: Get your food outside before you go in the gates. Inside, the drinks will never be this cold. Inside, the dogs won’t have grill marks.
Today is the first home game, and it would be easy to describe the parking lots surrounding the NC State campus as a sea of Wolfpack red and black, but that would be cliché. It’s the brightness of it all that stands out: The slant of fall sunlight hitting hillsides, tubas, and beer bottles. Polished chrome glinting on motor homes, cars, and grills. Don’t forget the grills. We’re not talking a domed Weber here or a little hibachi there. We’re talking full-fledged setups that home makeover shows will tout as ‘your next outdoor kitchen.’
Quick, check out the size of that motor home and size up the horseshoe-shaped grill station and wonder to yourself, “How did they get that here?” and just keep on walking.
I’m heading to the NC State tailgate gathering being hosted by Blair and Laura Meads, David Hines, and Lori Brooks. All are Kitty Hawk residents and avid Wolfpack fans. Frequently, they are joined by up to 25 or 30 beach residents. The Hines and the Meads hold lifetime seats at Carter-Finley stadium and will attend every home and away game for the 2014-15 season.
“We try not miss too many games,” laughs Hines.
Each May, these local alumni families host a golf tournament attracting 25 to 30 golf teams to the Outer Banks to raise funds for student athletes through the Wolfpack Club. Hines’ and Meads’ fundraising efforts in 2014 lead to an invitation on the field during halftime to accept the prestigious Abernathy Award.
Hines says, “When you look at what a student athlete scholarship costs and you multiply that by all the sports, it means you really have to ramp up the [fundraising efforts], or you wouldn’t have any sports… or tailgating!”
Any leftover space in a tailgate lot will – with true Southern hospitality – get offered up for other drivers to use. Amazingly, even this passerby who is sporting colors from the opposing team is offered a chance to play corn hole or taste a snifter’s worth of bourbon (in a red Solo cup, of course).
Perfectly grilled ribs appear out of nowhere. Answering the question, “Whose sauce is better?” is the only currency accepted for the sticky offer. It’s all served with some good-natured ribbing about what will happen after kickoff.
With that kind of hospitality, there is no room for ugliness. No room for politics.
I’m heading toward a blue and white haven of hospitality for diehard ODU fans nestled in the midst of N.C. State red at today’s game in Raleigh. Kitty Hawk resident, Rob Ladd (Class of 1975) has held basketball season tickets for over 30 years and season football tickets since that program began in 2009. He is grilling ribs for a mixed crowd and is not intimidated by being outnumbered by Wolfpack fans.
“I think I have only missed one or two home, football games,” says Ladd, “and I can’t imagine going to one of the football games without tailgating,” he says.
Ladd regularly tailgates with fellow alumnus, Chip Iuliano who owns a home in Kill Devil Hills. Typical fare includes ribs, beef tenderloin, clam chowder, shrimp or tuna bites.
“Of course we’re there to support the team, but tailgating is just as big a part of it” says Ladd. “A lot of Tidewater people feel the same way. I’ve seen people come to the tailgate even when they can’t get into the game.”
Known for bringing the coast with them wherever they go, ECU Pirate fans from the OBX are well represented at tailgate parties. Oysters. Scallops. It’s all about showing who can do it right.
Mike and Willo Kelly bring a heavily loaded Kelly’s Restaurant catering truck to an ECU tailgate each fall that is full of staples like burgers, slaw, and chicken wings.
“But,” adds Willo, “We complement it with steamed shrimp, sushi, and seared scallops.”
And of course, it wouldn’t have the full Kelly’s flair without “seasonal desserts and Pirate Punch to wash it all down.”
David and Meredith Joyner of Kill Devil Hills (both Class of 2001) faithfully attend each home game. They estimate that an hour before kickoff, more than 50 people may gather at their tailgate spot which has a perfect view as cheerleaders, players, and the marching band make their entrances. With such big crowds, the fare relies on convenient favorites: BBQ, fried chicken, and low country boils top the list.
David says, “I attend most all home games and have since I was a young boy. My dad used to take me.”
David’s Dad is from the class of 1966 and both of David’s sisters are Pirates, as well as both of Meredith’s parents. As a testament to their loyalty, the Joyner family will line up for their popular tailgate lot up to six hours before the game to secure their favorite spot.
By far the youngest local alumnus in our group is Nina Compton, Class of 2014. In fact, the ink is still drying on her change of address card in Virginia Tech’s alumni office after her winter move here to the Outer Banks with her partner, Lanie.
With family season tickets for eight years and a mother and brother who are also alumni, the Hokie allegiance is strong in the Compton family.
The coveted tailgate party spot is now at the stadium entrance. One favorite memory: a group of tuba players encircled the port-a-john occupied by her father and gave it a horn blast on cue.
With a long list of drinking games (Shotgun 30, Stump, and Flip Cup were a few named), it’s easy to understand why Compton says, “It’s a lot harder to tailgate for a noon game. But if the game starts at 5 or 7, we’ll set up at noon and start tailgating.”
Compton, a softball player, says, “As an athlete, we [were guaranteed] free tickets to football games; [non-athlete] students had to go through the lottery to get them.” The tailgates organized by the softball team consistently draw 20 to 30 people and are known for having two, huge pots of jambalaya brewing.
Compton describes the energy and hype as the players take the field as an experience that “gives you goosebumps every time – no matter how many times you’ve seen it.”
The Sullivan family of Kitty Hawk shows just how thickly the loyalty for an alma mater can run in a family’s veins. Wendy and Bryan are both alumni as is their son, Taylor. Their daughter, Anderson, is now in her junior year at Chapel Hill.
Wendy says, “The games are a great chance to go see your kids as well as go back to campus.”
For the past 15 years, a picturesque lawn in front of the white brick Chi Phi fraternity house has been their tailgate spot of choice. A coveted allotment of 12 season tickets is shared with three alumni families.
Wendy laughs, “A lot of the Outer Banks goes with us to every game. For afternoon tailgates we always take Kelly’s [Restaurant] ham and sweet potato biscuits. If it’s an earlier game, we serve breakfast foods, so we pick up Duck Donuts before we leave town.”
No conversation about diehard Tarheel tailgaters would be complete without mentioning Philip Whitfield of Southern Shores. Others have nicknamed him the “mayor of the Skipper Bowles Parking Lot,” based on his devotion to hosting UNC tailgates in that lot.
His permanently outfitted tailgate vehicle is referred to as the “war wagon” and remains at the ready in Chapel Hill for every game.
“The war wagon was born at the beach but resides at a hotel in Chapel Hill,” says Philip. It has not returned to the beach in four years.
“It’s completely stocked with a grill, tables, chairs, flags and flag poles … and, of course a propane heater for those late-season games. We make a full weekend of it no matter what the kickoff time is. We leave on a Friday and come back on a Sunday.”
He has been a UNC season ticket holder since 2008, and explains, “I’m a very dedicated fan because I admire what they do in the classroom, on the field, and on the court.”
As a testament to his diehard fan status, he shows a picture of his lone war wagon parked in early morning sunlight.
“Often, I’m the one holding a spot for Chapel Hill fans even though I’m coming all the way from the beach.” He goes on to describe attending another game in South Bend, Indiana where “even though we were coming all the way from N.C., we were still the third car in the [tailgating] lot at 7:30 a.m.”
A tailgate is about the potential of what’s to come. And not just on the football field. It’s the chance to believe that all is possible as soon as exam week ends and Christmas break comes. It’s the last glimmer of school days for those of us who left school long ago – and it all comes without the pressure of a reunion ending in a ‘5’ or ‘0’.
There’s one last image to capture on a perfect, fall day: a parting gesture made by ODU players as they exit the field.
No matter their fatigue or injuries, all players from this traveling team walk over to their side of the stadium seating. They reach up and swipe their wrapped hands and fingertips with the comforting fingertips of fans and family members who have traveled so far from home to cheer them on.
Not many of us will ever get the chance to turn around and come face to face with those who have cheered us on in life; but if we did, we may wish we could reach up and thank them. ♦