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Homecoming tailgates at WSSU: Come all, come hungry

Pitched tents, aromas from outdoor grills, and upbeat music infused the atmosphere at Bowman Gray Stadium as tailgaters enjoyed the most flavorful part of Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) homecoming.

As a Louisiana native, food and football are a few of my favorite pastimes. So when my childhood friend joined me for WSSU’s homecoming festivities, we decided to explore how tailgating is done in Ram Country.

The tailgating parties were diverse, bringing together families, Greek organizations, classmates, alumni groups, and community members - all united around food to celebrate the Rams.

We didn’t know where to begin, but tailgaters welcomed us with open arms and pans of food.

The 1892 Crew

Lakeith Stevenson, director of food services at WSSU and member of the 1892 Crew, shows off grilling skills during homecoming tailgate. 

The 1892 Crew, a nonprofit organization, hosts one of the largest tailgates on campus. Alumni spanning generations, dressed in Ram and Greek paraphernalia, filled the space to enjoy music, fellowship, and food, making this tailgate look and feel more like a day party than a cookout.

Lines formed as people enjoyed fried fish, freshly grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, mac'n cheese, baked beans, fried lobster tails, and shrimp, grown-up lemonade and more.

My comrade created a WSSU version of a po’boy by enfolding a fried whiting filet into a hotdog bun and topping it with Texas Pete hot sauce (native to North Carolina) and mustard, a creation so tasty that we went back for seconds after the game ended.

Founded by a group of alumni, the 1892 Crew isn’t just throwing a party, they have a purpose.

“We tailgate every game, but for homecoming we do a really big tailgate,” said Corey Williams ’02, member of the 1892 Crew. “People make donations that we give back to WSSU for scholarships. If we are going to party anyway, we may as well give back, pay it forward.” 

Family Tailgate

WSSU News Writer Ashlea Jones enjoys homestyle cooking from Manya McCoy Stewart's family tailgate party.

After pulling ourselves away from the 1892 Crew, we lucked up on Manya McCoy Stewart ‘07 and family. This tailgate party was a family affair reminiscent of Sunday dinner.

Everything but the kitchen sink was on the menu, including mixed vegetables, pig feet, chitlins, polish sausage links with peppers and onions, and baked beans with ground meat that promised to be the best I’d ever tasted.

Stewart, a WSSU Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling graduate, is carrying on a tailgating tradition begun by her parents who were both WSSU graduates.

“We’ve been tailgating the Homecoming game for 20 years,” Stewart said. “My parents started the tradition of cooking for Homecoming. My dad is deceased now, so we just do it out here instead of at the house.”

WSSU's 1984 Freshman Class

Nearly stuffed from all of the food I’d consumed, I was still attracted to blazing grills nearby.

Anthony Carrothers ’88, veteran wide receiver for the Ram’s football team, and his classmates used this year’s tailgate as an opportunity to reunite for their 30-year reunion.

“Our motivation for this tailgate is to get everybody together to see faces and exchange hand shakes and hugs,” said Carrothers. “Life is so short. We forget about social-economic status and just come back together to see each other.”

Grills were on double duty as WSSU’s 1984 freshman class grill masters used the flames to cook sausage links, chicken wings, heat mac'n cheese, broccoli and cheese casserole and everything in between. Deep fried chicken wings sizzled under the sound of music and laughter while old friends reconnected.

The Brooks' Palace

WSSU Class of 1988 tailgates as an opportunity to reunite for their 30-year reunion.

Carol Brooks enjoys her 10th tailgate at WSSU with a football theme and over 30 guests.

Before I semi-fold my napkin, I had to check out the tailgate that was referred to as “a palace” by a WSSU staff member.

Carol Brooks, a community assistance liaison who attended WSSU, has been tailgating the homecoming game for 10 years. Each year, she chooses a new theme, invites over 30 guests, and welcomes drop-ins from passersby.

“I just like to see people have fun," said Brooks. “I love to decorate, I love to have fun and this is an opportunity to do that.”

Brooks’ decorative layout of designer paper plates and plastic utensils, a full-size refrigerator, tiered dessert trays, high tables and full-sized bar set-up felt like a cross between a wedding reception and a man cave.

Wendell Chaplin, a friend of Brooks, brought a large smoker with shelves that resemble the inside of a wardrobe armoire rather than a place to smoke meat.

The menu included ribs, grilled chicken, fried whiting, potato salad, mac’n cheese, green beans, cornbread, crab dip, and a culinary delight that Brooks calls “macaroni thingamabobs” that are stuffed with salad shrimp.

Football, this year’s tailgating theme, required attendees to wear their favorite team’s jersey, preferably WSSU. Brooks says that tailgating is a major part of the WSSU and HBCU tradition.

“HBCU tailgates are just spectacular. It’s just like ‘Chicken Wednesday’ and fish on Friday,” Brooks said.

Needless to say, we ended our tailgate tour full and satisfied. Winning the homecoming game 34-19 over Livingstone College was important to fans, but it’s obvious that enjoying time with friends and family means just as much.

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