Charger Football Tailgate: A Hillsdale Tradition

By Cal McNellie

Each fall, the Hillsdale Chargers Football team takes the field and takes on a schedule of tough opponents in the Great Midwest Conference. Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium plays host for the home games and is the perfect venue for hard-hitting action. The teams play their best and compete for sixty minutes. Eventually, the clock hits zero, the teams shake hands, and the players head into the locker room. At most schools, the day ends here and everyone goes home. Luckily for the Chargers, Hillsdale is not like most schools. 

After the final buzzer, parents and families of players hustle up to the parking lot to heat up and prepare a smorgasbord of delicious food for their Chargers. Pots are turned on, warmers are lit, and drinks are iced down. In the center of the parking lot outside the stadium, a row of tables are set up and covered with food brought by each player’s family. Potluck-style dishes including sandwiches, salads, pastas, proteins, bread, cakes, and other goodies await hungry mouths. After they finish cleaning themselves up, players slowly exit the sports complex and join their friends and family. The players and coaches head through first, and eventually everyone goes through the line and eats together. It is truly a fantastic way to end a Saturday and something very unique to Charger football.

A key part of the fun atmosphere is the caravan of RVs and motor coaches that parents and Charger fans bring to the game. These big vehicles line up Friday night on the south side of the parking lot and provide a colorful backdrop for the festivities on Saturday evening. The motor coaches are full of gear like outdoor TVs and fireplaces to share with other Charger families. Many families also bring along their four-legged friends, who enjoy the company and extra ear scratches that come with the Charger tailgate. 

While the tailgate is certainly meant to celebrate the players and their accomplishments, it is also a great time for the parents. Parents drive or fly many hours to watch their sons play, and the tailgate provides the perfect opportunity to catch up with their favorite players. Tailgate organizer Michelle Shannon, mother of punter Jack Shannon, loves to help organize this special time. After driving one-and-a-half hours from her home in Indiana, Shannon and her husband get immediately to work by shuffling cars and RVs to their assigned spots and setting up the food. 

After the game, Shannon treats players to her favorite pulled pork and enjoys spending time with her son. When asked about her favorite part, Shannon wrote, “When the gigantic tailgate comes together with the help of so many parents.” Shannon greatly enjoys working alongside all of the other families to make the event a continued success. While the food and drink certainly are an important component of the post game celebration, the best part is the camaraderie and memories shared by the Charger Family. Alumni, coaches, chain crews, siblings, players, and parents from all walks of life—even if it’s only for a few hours—can enjoy and celebrate the thing they all love, Charger Football. It is the perfect way to capture the family-oriented, tight-knit community all Charger players and fans can cherish. 

Calvin McNellie, ’21, studies finance and politics. He resides in Cleveland, Ohio. A member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and the Hillsdale College football team, Calvin’s interests include politics, fitness, woodworking, and jean shorts. He considers himself extremely blessed to be a student at Hillsdale College and a citizen of the greatest nation in the world.

Published in April 2021