You likely won’t find the University of Virginia among any lists of top tailgating schools. That’s understandable, as my alma mater has historically considered football as an afterthought. The Cavaliers had a run in the mid 1980s and early 1990s even reaching # 1 in ‘90 under head coach George Welsh. Yet, basketball is in its ACC blood. The school does dominate in sports like lacrosse and soccer and is a rising power in baseball. But like crying, there’s no tailgating in baseball.
However, don’t let that and or the fact that some students wear a shirt and tie to Scott Stadium fool you about the jovial atmosphere at Virginia football games. There is plenty of other tradition that reflects the rousing and gregarious gentlemen of UVa’s DNA.
Students known as Wahoo’s, which is a fish that legend has it can drink twice its weight, are quickly indoctrinated to the ways of Thomas Jefferson’s University. Mr. Jefferson, who was the primary writer of some document called the United States Declaration of Independence, fully endorsed the pursuit of happiness.
Although 228 years after TJ penned those famous words that are the modern equivalent of “Let’s get this party started,” the UVa administration in 2004 went mainstream by replacing the infamous Pep Band with the Cavalier Marching Band. The Pep Band was true to the school’s core beliefs as it was the antithesis to the military structured marching bands but a whimsical scrambling array of musicians satirizing and spoofing with humor.
But the school spirit lives on.
One end of the stadium, long considered one of the most beautiful football stadiums anywhere with Monticello Mountain as a backdrop and the Blue Ridge Mountains, there remains a nod to the old school with a grassy hill for students to sit and enjoy the game. And after a PAT, the student body sways in unison to a rendition of the Good Old Song, a slow tune set to the music of Auld Lang Syne. Just like the New Year’s theme song, it captures the cheer of nostalgia and spirits.
Before the game, tailgating takes place all over the grounds (not campus). First year students (not freshman) live and tailgate primarily within the areas of the old dorms or new dorms. There’s also the laid-back tailgating on the Lawn, which is the epicenter of the University with sparse but prestigious housing for a few select fourth-year students.
Even on the Lawn though, there is plenty of adult beverages in the form of whiskey. Virginia Gentleman might be the bourbon drink of choice. Although some may not consider it a bourbon as it is not distilled in that Kentucky county, whiskey was first distilled in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Other favorites are Wild Turkey as well as Jack (Daniel’s) and Jim (Beam).
Then there is the rugged tailgating experience on Rugby Road where the row of fraternity homes lines the thoroughfare. This area once was the site of what Playboy magazine called “the best party in America,” which was the school’s Easters celebration that drew upwards to 15,000 students from around the country. And although the party got too wild and crazy forcing its end, the chi remains.
The historically black Greek organizations get in on the fun as well. Tailgating is more than a place to gather to eat and drink. With brothers still in college, bonding with alumni brothers who may have graduated decades earlier, it’s a mini-reunion that all look forward to for their rest of their lives.
The brothers reminisce on the stories from their pledge period and sing songs of devotion to the fraternity. But unique to the black fraternities will be the impromptu stepping where brothers set out choreographed dance maneuvers and chants while leaving room for creativity with freelanced moves.
And although UVa, like many other schools across the country, recently hosted its homecoming weekend, 100 years after the first “come home” celebration was held in 1911 on the campus of the University of Missouri, every home game is like homecoming for Wahoos.