From offering punches during the fourth quarter at concessions to selling beer, JMU has been desperately trying to enhance their football game day experience. However, what JMU needs to do is focus on improving student tailgating before the game in order to increase student attendance and involvement.
Before the 2018 season, students used to congregate at Upper Convo before every home game. Cars lined the lot and organizations flew their flags proudly. Just before kickoff, a mass of students made the journey to the stadium together. The tunnel under Interstate 81 was filled with echoes of traditional JMU chants and notes of the fight song. At the gates, students shoved their way in to witness the first firing of the cannon and prematurely throw their streamers.
This was an atmosphere of school spirit and pride that JMU doesn’t see anymore.
At the end of the 2017 football season, upper convo student tailgating was nixed after an incident requiring an ambulance. The following weekend, which saw a home game, upper convo was a ghost town. Additionally, JMU soon shut off access to upper convo to build Paul Jennings Hall.
The following year for the 2018 football season, student tailgating was banished to R1, a lot in between the Hillside dorms and D-Hub. JMU claims this lot was chosen based on proximity to student dorms, but it isn’t close at all for those who live on East Campus. Access to R1 on game day isn’t granted without a valid ticket for the game. This applies to both students and drivers trying to access the lot. Cars are also not allowed to be in R1 until four hours before game time.
With all these extra hoops to jump through, some students have abandoned tailgating on campus and moved to off-campus housing to tailgate. Before 2018, it was a tradition to go to the game until at least halftime when, most of the time, JMU was crushing their opponent. Except, due to the regulations change, some students don’t attend the game at all anymore. Some students even say the regulations have negatively impacted school spirit.
This isn’t the first time JMU has messed with student tailgating. In the 1980s, a group referred to as the Hillside Gang occupied the west end of the football stadium near the train tracks. Students and new alumni turned this area into a tailgate with beer, lawn chairs and blankets to watch the game. Alumni who attended during that time said those tailgates were some of the best times they had at JMU.
However, the administration wasn’t pleased that thousands of students were watching the game for free. Bleachers were set up in front of the end zone to block the Hillside Gang’s view. Trees were also planted on the hill and alcohol use was monitored. All these factors led to the end of the mass amount of students showing up to support their fellow Dukes.
History is repeating itself today, and JMU should learn from their mistakes. If an increase in student spirit and attendance is what they want, punching for food at games isn’t enough to get it.
CORRECTION (10/31/19 at 3:35 P.M.): A previous version of this article stated that the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad was dispatched for an incident in 2017, when it was actually an ambulance from elsewhere.
Allison Baxter is a media arts & design and communication studies double major. Contact Allison at email@example.com.