Mac-Hi tailgate party in Milton-Freewater

McLoughlin High School football cheerleaders and sophomores Jamie Bezerril, left, and Monica Martinez enjoy freezes in Friday’s heat at the community’s first tailgate party of season. It’s also the first such party sponsored by the Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance.

MILTON-FREEWATER — McLoughlin High School’s football team went into their first home game of the season Friday with some new fanfare.

A couple of hours before the game against the Madras White Buffaloes — which Mac-Hi lost, but not without making the Madras, Ore., team work hard for its 16 points — the evening began with a version of the long-standing tailgate party known to sports and concert fans everywhere.

As crimson and black flags representing the high school’s colors fluttered from light poles in the Old Towne Freewater section of the city, the aroma of grilling hot dogs competed with the scent of heated asphalt in a parking lot along Main Street.

Hosted by the Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance, the event was recently hatched by the organization as a stone for two birds, said alliance member Mark Driver.

“As part of the Downtown Alliance, we’re always looking for ways to get people downtown. Gary Robertson, the high school’s athletic director, has also been struggling to get participation with kids and parents at games,” Driver said Thursday.

“This tailgate party came to mind.”

Those haven’t been seen here in recent times, but tailgate parties have traditionally been a social event centered on food and beverages prepared and served from the open tailgate of a vehicle in parking lots at stadiums and arenas before games and concerts, note online sources.

Media reports show that schools around the country use tailgating to build community camaraderie for sports teams. And while Milton-Freewater’s party had no actual tailgates, Robertson — who is also Mac-Hi’s football coach — looked pleased with the turnout of more than 50 people.

“This is a great opportunity for the kids to meet the community,” he said.

The crowd, heavily seasoned with Pioneer football players and cheerleaders in uniform, was thoroughly engaged with activities on hand, including corn hole toss, dunk tank and a basketball hoop. Mac-Hi Pioneers T-shirts were up for sale, as were those hot dogs. A set of speakers laid a blanket of Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” over the parking lot as a city fire truck idled.

A 5:15 p.m. send off of the football team unleashed a choir of air horns and cheers.

The party brought people out who wouldn’t normally be downtown on a Friday evening, said Milton-Freewater Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Duff.

That momentum appeared to carry over to the football game at Shockman Field, he said this morning. Not only did the football team keep the White Buffaloes from a full stampede, the bleachers were packed out by the community, Duff said.

“That was great.”

Two more tailgate parties are planned for Mac-Hi Pioneers home games: 2:30-5 p.m. on Oct. 4 and 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 19. For more information call the MFDA at 541-969-4485.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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