Tailgating, patriotism highlights WKU game-day atmosphere

Tailgaters party in “Topperville” across from Van Meter Hall before the WKU-Navy football game on Saturday afternoon.

Kurt Carson

Fans came out in droves Saturday afternoon to begin tailgating for the WKU-Navy game at Smith Stadium and enjoy the atmosphere on a patriotic weekend.

After improvements had been made to the layout for tailgating on campus, fans and students were eager to take advantage of the new areas available.

“The atmosphere on game day, to me, is all about the students who come out,” Owensboro sophomore Tyler Lockhart said. “I think Western has done a great job in trying to facilitate more and more students to come down here. Everything around here is really nice.”

WKU developed a new plan to improve tailgating options for fans who were having trouble finding room to tailgate in years past.

The plan opened up tailgating spots in the Valley and on the lawns outside Bates-Runner Hall and McLean Hall.

Barry White, 55, of Alvaton, said improvements are always welcomed because tailgating has become a tradition for him and his friends.

“We have a group of 15-20 people that have been getting together for 10 years in various spots,” White said. “We love it and certainly look forward to it all year. These home-game Saturdays are like holidays for us.” 

Navy fan John Weires, 49, of Louisville, was also impressed with the organization of tailgating on the WKU campus.  

“I love the campus,” Weires said. “I thought it was really well organized with just the placement we got, the scenery and all the fans walking by.” 

Weires graduated from the Naval Academy in 1984. However, his daughter is currently a senior at WKU and so he felt ties to both schools.

Weires described seeing WKU play Navy on the anniversary weekend of 9/11 as a “chance of a lifetime.”

“We saw this game on the schedule and blocked this weekend out of our schedule basically a year ago just so we could make it here because this is just incredible,” he said. “We’ve got an affinity with both schools. 

“We love Western, but of course I’ve got a partial favoritism with the Naval Academy so it’s really been a fantastic experience to see us play down here.”

All the patriotic events that WKU planned also helped to enhance the atmosphere throughout the game.

WKU passed out American flags to all fans, held a moment of silence and had a helicopter fly-over prior to kickoff, among other things.

“I think it’s really patriotic to have all that going on, you know, the helicopter coming in,” Atlanta senior Chris Steinker said. “It’s good for the entire country and it stands for how united the United States really is.”

Lockhart said while tailgating was an “awesome” experience, the idea of playing Navy on the 9/11 anniversary weekend is what defined the game-time atmosphere.

“I honestly think it was a great idea,” Lockhart said. “We all love this country and playing them on this anniversary weekend is really an honor and privilege.”