It was mid afternoon on the first day of school. The volleyball team was ready to take the court. The stands were practically empty with only a few parents sitting in the bleachers waiting to support their players. It was a brand new year but an old problem still existed - no students had shown up to support their classmates. My school, University Prep, is a small school with bright, hardworking students and outstanding, dedicated teachers. It has a strong reputation for preparing its students for college. However, it also had a reputation for developing individuals not community. Students rarely supported their peers in extracurricular activities. The volleyball game was just one example. This lack of support stymied a sense of pride by individuals in the school and those who represented the school. As a fierce competitor on University Prep’s baseball and soccer teams, and an accomplished actor in its drama productions, I was discouraged by this lack of support. Many students felt this way, as well. But I was the only one who decided to change it. Therefore, I founded Tailgate Club.
The concept was to have a tailgate gathering outside the school’s gym before student events, barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs. We would even provide vegetarian options. That would give students the opportunity to socialize and anticipate the upcoming event. The school enthusiastically supported my idea and provided some funding. I obtained additional financial support from the school’s Parent Council and by selling Tailgate Club t-shirts. We purchased a barbecue and, for additional fun, some foam fingers and towels with the school’s mascot printed on them. We were ready to go.
On the afternoon of the first event, people came by the dozens and surrounded the barbecue. After grabbing a bite to eat, they moved to the sidelines of a school soccer game. The fans, sporting painted faces and wearing school colors were cheering, supporting their fellow students. After the soccer game, over 180 Tailgate Club members packed the school gym for the volleyball game. No one was expecting this kind of turnout. The crowd was so large and enthusiastic that the bleachers cracked under weight of the students and their thundering feet.
Tailgate Club was the beginning of a school-wide revolution. Students came to school wearing Tailgate Club t-shirts and showed up en-masse at student events. Students were supporting each other. Everyone was having fun. The teams started playing better because more fans were there to watch them play. Students, faculty, staff and even parents enjoyed the camaraderie.
There was a feeling of school pride that my high school never had. Tailgate Club changed the entire culture of the school. It strengthened the University Prep community. And I made it happen.