Tailgaters' spirits lifted Alcohol: After a decade long ban on alcohol at tailgate parties, picnickers at Towson State can now drink with the university's blessing.


After a 10-year dry spell, booze is back at Towson State University tailgate parties.

And it's long overdue, say students, parents and alumni.

"We probably would not be here," said Marc Veilleux, a TSU senior drinking Miller Lite from a red plastic cup while grilling burgers, sausage and chicken before a 1 p.m. TSU football game against Colgate University yesterday. "We'd still be in bed."

The decadelong ban on alcoholic beverages was put into effect after inebriated students wreaked havoc at a homecoming football game in 1986, setting fire to a parade float, overturning a car and pushing over portable toilets, some while they were occupied.

But now administrators are allowing drinking on a trial basis as long as participants, who must be age 21, follow tailgate rules, such as having a ticket to the game, using plastic or paper cups for beverages and refraining from drinking games. Also, no kegs of beer are allowed.

"Everybody has to be on their best behavior to keep it going," said Debby DeAngelis, associate athletic director for internal operations at TSU.

To ensure regulations are followed, campus police, students and staff members monitor the four lots where tailgating is allowed, offering a copy of the rules and paper cups to those who may not have any.

"We're not here to be real strict," said Tiffany Campbell, a TSU senior on the enforcement team. "We're trying to take the friendly approach. It's here for them to have a good time."

While drinking is officially allowed this football season, it's no secret that some picnickers surreptitiously sipped alcohol over the years anyway. Now, though, they can drink with the university's blessing.

And, yesterday, on a crisp, sunny, football-perfect day, almost 400 orderly fans showed up to hoist a few before the TSU Tigers took on Colgate of Hamilton, N.Y. Picnics ranged from a couple of six-packs of beer to more elaborate spreads with wine, pasta and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

"There's nothing like having hamburgers and sausage at 10 in the morning," said Don Kunkoski of Frederick, whose son plays guard and center for TSU. "It's a religion. It's great fun."

The Leonards and Liberatores of McKeesport, Pa., who traveled almost four hours to come to the game, are veteran tailgaters as Pittsburgh Steelers fans, they said.

By 11 a.m., the families had a card table set up with a crimson tablecloth and an assortment of munchies, from cheeses and pepperoni chunks in containers to sliced cold meatloaf for sandwiches.

They also had coolers of I. C. Light beer from Pittsburgh.

"It helps you can have a can of beer," said Ron Liberatore, who was visiting the campus for the first time to watch his son play defensive end for Colgate.

Sitting at a folding TV table nearby, Elizabeth and Eldon Dau of Rosedale were enjoying Manhattan cocktails with their corned-beef sandwiches before the game.

The couple, former Colts fans who have been married for 38 years, look forward to TSU football games, they said.

"We're season ticket holders," said Eldon Dau. "I retired in '81. I can't afford Ravens tickets."

By 1 p.m., most tailgaters had closed their car trunks and headed into the game, where 2,741 fans watched as Colgate won, 35-10. They left behind quiet parking lots with little evidence of partying.

"So far, so good. We've had no critical incidents, no arrests," said Chief of University Police Stephen J. Murphy, who remembers the fateful day in 1986 that changed TSU tailgating. "It really got ugly on that particular day."

Murphy said the rowdiness started that day when almost 300 students continued to drink on the parking lot instead of going into the stadium to watch TSU play Lehigh University.

The disturbance eventually brought county firefighters to the campus to put out the parade-float fire before it could ignite gasoline pouring from the overturned car nearby.

"There was a real potential for problems. Gasoline was all over the place. I remember gasoline all over me and beer bottles hitting me," Murphy said.

Eventually, campus police dispersed the crowd. No one was arrested that day, but the damage was done. There would be no more "wet" tailgating parties at TSU.

The next year, students peacefully demonstrated at football games, carrying "Bring back the booze" signs -- to no avail. And, although the issue came up over the years, it wasn't until recently that Hoke L. Smith, president of TSU, began to relent.

Plans were being made for TSU to join the more competitive FTC Patriot League in 1997; it plays currently in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. A new athletic director came on board, Wayne Edwards, who wanted to increase team spirit and game attendance at TSU's Minnegan Stadium, which holds 5,000 people.

"When we joined the Patriot League, we thought the alums wouldn't like it if they couldn't put out their candelabras and caviar," Edwards said, with a laugh.

Added Smith, "For many people, tailgating is part of football. I think it will bring many people back to the game."

Pub Date: 10/13/96

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad