NAPLES — When a football game starts, the players own the field, but before the game, Barron Collier High’s parents own the parking lot. The Gridiron Club’s pre-game tailgate has claimed the parking lot of Barron Collier high’s football field as it’s very own tailgating playground for years.
“We’re here to inspire our boys” said Mitch Williams, a three-year member of the Gridiron Club, Barron Collier High School’s football booster club, and parent to a former Barron Collier football player. “We get our boys ready to go, it’s inspiring.”
The club provides moral and financial help to the football team, said Jerry Schoenfeld, the current president of the club.
“The kids know and interact with each other, but the parents don’t often get a chance to do that so this is the one opportunity we get to interact and socialize with each other,” Schoenfeld said.
And as with any good tailgate, the events never have a shortage of food.
“For the tailgate party everybody brings a cover dish to share,” Shoenfeld said.
About 40 parents and students enjoyed meals from fried chicken and pizza to pasta and some favorite homemade meals.
Instead of open truck beds and beer coolers, there are neatly placed picnic tables and an assortment of sodas.
“There’s lots of good food,” said Cydney Beatty, a student at Barron Collier High and daughter to a member of the Gridiron Club. “It’s like a giant party.”
Mitch Williams said it’s more than that.
“It’s everything,” he said. “We relive our past.”
Tailgaters wore blue shirts, team jerseys and hats imprinted with cougar paws.
Though the football programs at Naples, Immokalee and Gulf Coast may be just as strong as Barron Collier’s, they don’t support the spirited tailgaters.
That doesn’t surprise parents in the Gridiron Club.
“Barron Collier is special,” Williams said. “It’s the best of the best.”
“It’s a great organization” said Rich Grimes, a member of the Gridiron Club for six years and parent of a former player.
Other schools may just overlook the tradition that is usually reserved for college or pro football games.
“Maybe (other schools) just haven’t thought of it,” Beatty added.
Barron Collier’s tailgate is more than big party. Tailgaters see it as their part of the commitment.
“The big thing is that the players make a commitment, the coaches make a commitment and this is just our little way of supporting them in that role” Grimes said.
The commitment to the team shows as Barron Collier’s varsity football team marches down the sidewalk onto the field and the tailgaters line the walkway patting shoulders and yelling lines of encouragement.
“Go cougars!” Williams yelled as they passed.
“If they need me I’m ready,” he said wearing a Barron Collier football team home jersey. “Here at the Gridiron club, we’re ready.
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