Fitzerland is king of the tailgates
Long before most people are even awake, one group is already at the athletic complex, preparing for the day.
Wildside, the official student section of Northwestern Athletics, works with the athletic department and the rest of the school to set up bus transportation to Ryan Field. But the biggest part of their gameday routine is setting up Fitzerland, the student tailgate just outside the stadium. Fitzerland started last year and was immediately a huge hit with students.
Leading the charge is Wildside president Gram Bowsher, who gets there with his team four and a half hours before gametime. Luckily for Bowsher and the rest of Wildside, this game didn't start until 2:30, meaning they arrived at 10 a.m. and the tailgate opens at 10:30.
They are responsible for setting up the grills, getting the grilling utensils, filling up water tanks and more. ASG always provides hotdogs, burgers, chips and water to the tailgate.
“There are student monitors out there making sure that people are having a good time,” Bowsher said. “[They do] some risk management stuff.”
This year (and the Michigan game is no exception), the Fitzerland tailgate has not been as well attended, which Bowsher attributes to some policy changes after an incident that occurred in the middle of last season.
“In the beginning of last year, it was a lot looser, which is something that I think we all preferred,” Bowsher said. “It was basically a self-policing policy that was available to Northwestern students to tailgate, just like they would it they were tailgating at a parking lot or at their apartment, but at a safe, open environment.”
But because of that incident involving a non-Northwestern student, the policy was changed this year so that only Northwestern students can go to the tailgate. Last year, a someone visiting a friend at NU became too intoxicated before a game and had to go to the hospital, prompting a re-evaluation of Fitzerland. Now, everyone must show their school ID in order to gain entrance.
And, on top of that, alcohol policies were changed. This year, people over the age of 21 can only bring in one case of beer at a time, something that Bowsher said has become an issue with luring Greek life to Fitzerland.
“[The policy] was changed to one case of beer per person to avoid creating an image where there was one person sitting with 30 cases of beer, where you couldn’t reasonably say that person was going to drink all that beer,” Bowsher said.
Like most home games this year, Fitzerland for the Michigan game was not well attended. Not many fraternities set up official tailgates, and many elected to host tailgates elsewhere. Even though Wildside has pushed to have non-Greek organizations host a tailgate in Fitzerland, they haven’t had much success.
For that reason, they are still working with the school administrators and police to create an environment that is fun for the students, but still meets the standards of police and university personnel.
“We do want that to be a place like it was last year, where it was the place to be on Saturday gamedays,” Bowsher said. “That’s where Greek organizations could all come together and all students could all come to one location and tailgate.”
Bowsher and the rest of the Wildside executive board are working hard to make Fitzerland more like it was in 2013, but maintain the added security.
“Being at the Ohio State game or the Michigan game last year and having 500-600 students all out tailgating, doing what students do at other Big Ten schools – having a good time, experiencing gameday at the football field instead of just hanging out in an apartment basement somewhere,” Bowsher said. “That atmosphere, and what it could potentially grow into is easily my favorite thing about it.”