By: Katie Vulich
Attendance at Bellarmine athletic events is underwhelming to say the least. Leah Mudd, SGA President and Steven Cheppo, vice president of educational affairs, took matters into their hands this summer at the Executive Leadership Summit. The duo saw the need for a culture shift at athletic events, and a tailgate that allowed alcohol was a way to attract more students.
“After the summit, it was non-stop tailgate,” Cheppo said. “We worked closely with HGR (Dr. Helen Grace Ryan, Bellarmine Vice President of Student Affairs) and Sean McGreevey in Student Affairs to make the event a reality.”
A culture shift is exactly what Dr. Sean McGreevey, dean of students, wants to see.
“I think we’re in the business of fostering an environment where student leaders can step forward and make change. This is a big cultural change for us on our campus,” McGreevey said.
The biggest obstacle was creating a tailgate policy that allowed students of age to bring alcohol to the tailgate.
“I think part of that policy is trying to manage the process in a way that promotes safety while the community supports athletics,” McGreevey said.
After hours of researching other schools’ policies and many meetings, Mudd, Cheppo, McGreevey and Ryan established Bellarmine’s tailgating policy. The complete tailgating policy can be found on the Student Affairs Engage webpage.
These tailgates sponsored by SGA are not to be confused with what was formerly known as a Knights Nation tailgate.
Knights Nation PR Chair Sabrina Fussenegger said, “We will now call our events Knight Rally Games to avoid confusion of the new tailgates with alcohol, so people don’t show up to our events with beer or wine.”
The first tailgate was held on Sept. 28 for the men’s and women’s soccer games against Quincy University. The event kicked off family weekend.
“I started setting up at 11. I was really nervous about it,” Cheppo said. “Moving cars was the hardest part, but we won’t run into that problem again because future tailgates will be held in the field between the soccer and softball fields.”
Because there was heavy rain a few days before the tailgate, the event had to be held in the Anniversary parking lot. An email and an announcement through the Daily Knight stated that cars in the Anniversary lot needed to be moved by 9 a.m. on the day of the event.
“Over 200 students went to the tailgate and we averaged around 100 at any given point,” Cheppo said.
Following the tailgate, Mudd and Cheppo led students into Frazier Stadium before the start of the women’s game.
“It was a proud mom moment seeing everyone going into the game,” Mudd said. “Attending games regularly is a culture we want to start at Bellarmine.”
Around 75 students were in the stands at the start of the game.
“There were more students than normal in the stands and it created a very positive vibe,” senior midfielder Polly Marino said. “We are glad the tailgate brought more people to our game.”
Family weekend may have worked against the tailgate in that students opted to spend time
with their families instead of attending the event. The games started at 3:55 and 6:30 p.m. Making, the event last eight hours.
“I never ask students for eight hours of anything,” McGreevey said.
Students stayed for most of the women’s game, but the crowd dwindled at the start of the men’s game. Longevity of the tailgate is a concern that McGreevey and Cheppo look to address for the upcoming tailgates.
“One thing we need to figure out is how to sustain the tailgate,” McGreevey said.
Adding more events to the tailgate agenda is a possible fix.
“We want to do more giveaways and games during halftime to keep the spirit up throughout the game,” Cheppo said.
The second tailgate was held Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. for the field hockey team on their senior day against Belmont Abbey College. The success of the first tailgate set the bar high for the second tailgate and it did not disappoint.
The future of tailgates is up to students. “If you want to have culture change, you have to have buy in,” McGreevey said.