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McDaniel tailgating to be featured on The Weather Channel

The clerks at the Days Inn of Westminster know that every Friday night before a McDaniel College home football game, a bearish guy with a thick New York accent will appropriate their refrigerator and fill it with 150 cubes of yellow and green Jell-O — spiked with a little something extra.

"Everyone knows that if you want a Jell-O shot, you come to the camouflage tent at the 50-yard line," says a beaming Joe Timpanaro, whose son plays wide receiver for the Green Terror (the team colors correspond with dad's Jell-O).

Timpanaro, who drives from Long Island for every game, is one of many vibrant characters who populate the tailgating scene at the Division III contests.

At a McDaniel football game, you pay $5 and drive onto a road that loops tightly around Scott S. Bair Stadium. You back into a parking spot, flip open the rear of your vehicle to reveal the grill, and there you are, with a perfect spot to both watch the game and cook up delicacies.

The college bills it as Maryland's only "drive-in" tailgating experience. And it was unusual enough to catch the attention of The Weather Channel, which will feature tiny McDaniel on Tuesday night in a program ranking the nation's top seven tailgating schools.

McDaniel was the only non-Division I school picked for the tailgating special, a nod to the hundreds of colleges across the country where fans and players celebrate football with great passion but without the notoriety or big money of the SEC or Big Ten.

"I think it's great," says McDaniel President Roger Casey, who does a single push-up with students for every point the Green Terror scores. "Clearly, when you talk to our students, this is one of the characteristic traditions they bring up."

Despite the fact the Ravens train at the college's campus in Westminster, it's possible that a great many Baltimore-area football fans have no idea McDaniel plays the sport. Even if they know it, they probably haven't given the Green Terror a second gridiron thought.

But those who make the trek say there's no better place to be on a Saturday in the fall.

"It's unlike anything I've ever seen in tailgating," says Chris Counts, field producer of the segment on McDaniel for The Weather Channel. "It combines the parking lot with the stadium. That's usually two different events in your football day."

Counts, who lives in Washington, says he had never heard of McDaniel before getting the producing assignment. To him, tailgating meant Florida vs. Georgia, better known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," a bacchanal of Southern food and drink.

"But to be honest, I prefer the scene at McDaniel," he says. "You're so close. Everybody loves everybody. I would go there again on my own time. I just thought it was a very, very refreshing experience."

Drive-in tailgating has been a tradition at McDaniel for as long as anyone can remember. The gameday program features a black-and-white photo of what look to be Model T Fords parked along the edge of the field.

Casey says that when prospective students tour the college, guides stop in front of a large window in the library, overlooking the field and tell the story of tailgating at McDaniel. "It's amazing how many students tell me that's the moment they decided to come here," the president says.

Katherine Frechette can attest to that. She has tailgated at every home game this season, even though she graduated in May. "I actually tailgated here before I came," she says between bites on a hot dog. "That was definitely a deciding factor in me coming here."

The parents might love it even more.

Timpanaro has formed close tailgating bonds with the families of two other juniors on the team, the Soellners of Baltimore and the Dolbys of Bethany Beach, Del. They arrive hours before every game to secure their spot at the 50-yard-line and paint their sons' numbers in the grass facing the field. Through tailgating, they have learned one another's regional customs. The Soellners have Timpanaro putting Old Bay in his eggs. He has them breakfasting on cannoli and espresso from Brooklyn.

They all know it's frowned upon to take a sip of alcohol before Peggy Dolby rings her cowbell, usually around 10 a.m. for a noon game. But after that, they get delightfully buzzed on Timpanaro's Jell-O cubes or Dolby's "Terror-ritas," her green-and-yellow spin on the traditional tequila drink. Dolby is sure the drink will be featured on the Tuesday broadcast, scheduled to air at 9 p.m.

The Green Terror entered Saturday's game 1-4 and fell behind quickly to Franklin & Marshall en route to a 31-14 loss. But the on-field disappointment didn't seem to detract from the frivolity above, where Karen Soellner dished up sausage-stuffed jalapeno poppers even as her team muffed a punt.

The tailgating pals know they won't see each other much, if at all, between the end of the season in November and next September. But they're already planning the menus for their sons' senior season.

"I live to come down here for these games," Timpanaro says. "Nothing takes precedent over it. I've never felt camaraderie like this anywhere.

"When you're an adult," says Karen Soellner, "how many days do you have to look forward to that are just fun?"

"No," says Peggy Dolby. "When we're here, we don't have to be adults."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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