Two hours remain before Greenwood hosts a crucial Mid-State Conference football game against Decatur Central, but a crowd is already forming.
A small grassy area in the southeast end of the parking lot will soon include about 50 people, some tables and plenty of food.
The Woodmen fans are parents of players, cheerleaders and band members. Students, alumni and residents come too.
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They laugh, reminisce, talk football and, perhaps most importantly, eat.
In time, they’ll file into the stadium to cheer on a squad in pursuit of the program’s third consecutive winning season.
“I think it’s just the camaraderie,” said Andy Walker, president of the Woodmen Touchdown Club, which puts on the tailgate parties. “It’s a parents’ group, so we get a lot of the parents. But it also brings in people from the community.
“We get people who had kids who played football here in the past, and parents who have bantam kids who want to come be a part of it.”
Some of Johnson County’s other high schools have introduced various pregame traditions that combine football, food and fans.
About 350 people gather to eat a pregame meal at Center Grove before home games. Whiteland tailgates no further than a shanked punt from its playing field, so Warrior fans can grab dinner before game time.
Greenwood, Whiteland and Roncalli have kept the basic recipe of food and catching up.
Trojans fans congregate before games in the pavilion area, located in the southwest corner of the football complex.
“We serve anyone affiliated with the football program. We never turn anyone away,” said Joseph Lansdell, president of the Center Grove Football Parents Club, who said the school has served pregame meals this way for about seven years.
“It’s much better than it used to be. It used to be a few families tailgating out in the parking lot.”
Before the season starts, parents of Trojans players in each of the four classes are assigned what food to bring for a particular home game.
Parents do the setup, the serving and the clean-up. Food is served from 5:45 to 7 p.m.
“It gets everyone involved, and it doesn’t exclude any class of (high school) players,” said Lisa Seifert, the parent representative for the junior class. “All the amenities are there in one place instead of having to lug everything around.”
Seifert said its best to have one designated pregame destination.
“It’s where everyone talks and gets caught up,” she said. “It’s not only parents, but grandparents and brothers and sisters. It’s a great sense of community. It’s a family.”
At this time, the Grizzly Cubs don’t have a big group of parents who gather in the parking lot to tailgate. A few might if the weather cooperates, but nothing beyond that.
“We didn’t even when I was in school,” said athletisc director Bill Doty, a 1990 Franklin graduate. “In recent years our students, our Blue Crew, started their own little tailgate in the senior lot. And some parents will do that in the parking lot.
“But it’s not a community-wide thing. Football hasn’t always been the thing to do on a Friday night in Franklin. But it’s getting there. We still get a decent crowd, but are they coming to tailgate?”
Senior Logan Snyder, co-leader of the Blue Crew along with classmate Russell Chain, said 150 to 200 students show up for home games and about 40 when the Grizzly Cubs play away.
“We get a small budget from the athletic department to cover football and basketball games,” Snyder said. “With school and sports we don’t get a chance to hang out with the people in our class that much.”
Snyder estimates he and Chain might spend $15 per game to buy hamburgers, hot dogs and buns. Chips and drinks are usually donated by senior members of the Blue Crew.
This season, Franklin started a free tailgate on the track next to the pole barn for high school teachers and staff and their immediate families. Athletic secretary Cindi Martin, and her husband Scott organize the gathering.
The first teachers’ tailgate of the season attracted about 80 people. Doty’s goal was to get the high school teachers involved in pregame gatherings first.
“It’s not in the true form of a tailgate,” Doty said. “We’re trying to get teachers here. We’re trying to get that going from a teacher’s perspective, because we want them there. They have the relationships with the students who are on the field or in the stands.
“I like the fact that our students are tailgating, and I would like to see that grow. I think it would be great to see more kids get involved in tailgating.”
Heather Griesemer, a member of the Woodmen Touchdown Club and the mother of junior defensive back Jackson Griesemer, likes how Greenwood football fans bond before home games.
Not only is it unimposing, it’s free.
“It’s in keeping with that small-town feel that we try to go with,” Griesemer said. “It brings parents in. It’s very much a family. We have pasta dinners that we do on Thursday nights where people bring things. Same thing here.
“Anybody who wants to eat with us is welcome.”
Recent completion of the new student activity center relocated the tailgating from the parking lot to a small grassy area near the ticket gate. This is proving to be an ideal location to entice fans about to enter the stadium to walk over and get a bite to eat.
“Community engagement is the main purpose,” Walker said. “You develop relationships with the parents during the bantam league years, and it’s a great opportunity for everyone to get together to support the program.”
The Rebels typically draw anywhere from 150 to 200 people to the parking lot next to the stadium before kickoff.
“And we never have food left over,” said Greenwood resident Jan Harris, who runs the Roncalli pregame meals with her husband, Fred. “We bring in a grill, tents and music. Food is ready by 5 o’clock every home game.”
Harris, whose son, John, is a starting nose tackle for the Rebels, is carrying on a Roncalli tradition that dates back about 15 years.
Roncalli athletics director David Lauck, a 1994 graduate of the school who played football for the Rebels, said tailgating before high school games became fashionable once the Indianapolis Colts started enjoying significant success in the early 2000s.
Before that, Roncalli students would sit in truck beds before games drinking soft drinks. Their gatherings have evolved over the years, with pop-up tents, grills and music popping up.
The Harrises also do this for all road games, though on a smaller scale. A tip jar is set up at each tailgate, and the money collected goes toward purchasing meat and drinks for the following week.
“We get $1, $5 and $10 bills. Every now and then there’s a $20,” Harris said. “Last week we found pennies. You do not have to donate to eat. One hundred dollars usually takes care of what we need for the following week.”
Providing the music is Chris Schura, a Rebel fan and part-time disc jockey.
“It takes a lot of hands to put it all together,” Harris said. “People come back because it’s a lot of fun.”
About 40 Warrior football fans meet before games in the Touchdown Club area, a portion of the north parking lot blocked off exclusively for tailgating purposes.
Fans pitch in food or drinks, which means the Touchdown Club doesn’t spend any of its own money. Tailgating in the north lot is a tradition that began at Whiteland six years ago, though people grilled out before games prior to that.
“It used to be a group of families here, a group of families there,” athletics director Ken Sears said.
Christine Walls, a member of the Touchdown Club, said the tailgating often starts at the freshman football level and works its way up.
“This really started when our boys who are seniors were freshmen. We wanted to do something for the boys, who had to be there early for games anyway,” Walls said. “We commiserate over everything. Kids. Football. Just life in general.”