There are two types of Saturdays on the University of Alabama’s campus.
In the spring, the Quad is quiet and serene. The early risers might be out for a jog, and in a few hours some students will show up to throw a Frisbee after sleeping late.
But fall brings new students, a new football season, and new life to the sprawling grassy patch in the heart of campus. A small nation moves onto the 22-acre mainland with tiny islands of tailgaters springing up across the rest of the campus.
Walk across the Quad, and you’ll smell every type of Southern hospitality available: barbecue, burgers and beer. You’ll see children pretending they too are playing football in Bryant-Denny and adults, long past their playing days, settling for friendly games of cornhole.
Nestled just off to the side of the village of tents, is a tailgate hosted by the Honors College Assembly (HCA) in front of Nott Hall. For three hours before the Tide kicks off, students are welcome to enjoy a free meal while chatting with friends – and at times, with professors and deans.
Shane Sharpe, dean of the Honors College, often attends, mingling with students and supporting their efforts to build community within the college.
“We provide a place for students to get to meet and hang out with other Honors students,” Sharpe said. “When you see there’s 500 students who show up and hang out and want to go sit together over in the stadium. If you’re the only student from your high school, you’re here looking for a sense of place and community, this is the place to start.”
The Honors tailgate began in 2009 and has grown each year since. Most weekends, 100-200 students show up in front of Nott to meet their friends and grab a free meal.
“It was Honors College Assembly students who championed it and owned it and wanted to do this for other students,” Sharpe said.
Katelyn Senkus, vice president of student life for HCA, said the first games of the season often have the largest turnout, as freshmen look to establish their game-day routine.
“The freshmen are kind of finding their place on campus and in the newsletter they’ll see, ‘Oh, Honors is having a tailgate,’ and they’ll come out,” Senkus said.
HCA hopes the tailgate becomes a place where Honors students can connect with each other. Sophomore John Andrews met most of his first college friends at the tailgate.
“The longer I’ve been at UA though the more people I seem to recognize there,” he said. “Usually my friends bring their friends and it ends up with one giant group of us hanging out so you meet some pretty cool people. It’s a great way to expand your social circle.”
Senkus said one of the challenges the tailgate faces is that many attendees simply use the tailgate as a common meeting place. Once they find their friends, they leave for other activities; however, Senkus accepts this and fosters a ‘come-and-go’ atmosphere.
“I guess that’s kind of the atmosphere of tailgating,” Senkus said. “But we’re trying to keep people out here by having different events going on.”
HCA has partnered with HBO and Aldi to host cornhole tournaments and raffles. Before the LSU game on Nov. 7, the tailgate will host another cornhole tournament sponsored by Mosaic.
“We know everyone gets really excited about [the LSU] game,” Senkus said. “We’re really excited for the turnout. There are going to be a lot of people.”
Certain games are prone to bring out much larger crowds. The traditional rivals of Auburn, Tennessee and LSU are the biggest, but this year saw quite the crowd gather before the Ole Miss game as well. Clay Wagenhals, who helps set up the tailgate, saw people standing in line three people wide for 30-40 minutes.
The lawn in front of Nott Hall is a fairly small area, and Wagenhals believes that contributes to fewer people sticking around for the entire tailgate. Bigger games tend to see a large crowd in line for food, but fewer people staying after they finish their meal.
According to freshman Raien Emery, however, the smaller area in front of Nott serves as a nice place to relax, because HCA provided seating unlike many other tailgates. She’s even visited the tailgate before games she didn’t have tickets to simply to hang out with her friends.
“I like how it’s away from the madness of the Quad,” she said. “It’s kind of secluded over by Nott and that’s nice.”
The festivities don’t stop when the team has a road game. Each year, the tailgating crew hosts a viewing party in Bryant-Denny stadium for Honors students. This year, HCA used the Zone at the stadium for the game at Texas A&M and saw more than 300 freshmen come out to watch.
Emery, like many of her classmates, has found a home at the Honors tailgate as HCA has built a community of students with their efforts.
“We’re pretty nerdy people and like to talk to our own, get free food and hang out a bit,” Emery said.