By Victoria Lewis / Staff writer

As the NJCAA semifinal football game comes to town, so do the pre-game festivities.

The age-old tradition of tailgating before a football game has come to Hutchinson Community College, and is quickly catching on with the community, with many thanks to Heather Dallas.

Wife of Blue Dragon football coach Drew Dallas, Heather moved to town in 2019 and saw the opportunity to get people involved in regular tailgates.

“It’s kind of a way to extend the gamely experience – we all have our own party but it’s one big party,” Heather said.

“It is more family-orientated tailgate, more of a way to hang out and meet people.

“When we started tailgating regularly as a group, there were only a few other people doing it at that time, and over the last year since the national championship it has really gotten a lot bigger so we are trying to make it a regular thing. We have camper that I take to all the home games and away games too –  we call it the Dragon Wagon.”

As the tailgates became more popular, Heather created the Facebook page ‘Blue Dragon Tailgate’ to post updates and information about the tailgates, as well as the weekly theme.

“This week, we play Coffeyville, who are the Red Ravens, so our theme is ‘roast the Ravens’, so we’re all cooking like chicken wings and drumsticks,” she said.

There will be yard games set up, music, and appearances from the Blue Dragon spirit squid as well as Duke The Dragon at this weekend’s final home tailgate. There will be free food and hot cocoa for all.

Heather extended an invitation to this week’s tailgate to anyone in the community.

“If you want to bring your own tailgate, bring tables and chairs and set up a spot where they can bring food if they want, we will be cooking a lot of food – everyone is so friendly anybody’s welcome,” she said.

She even encourages those just wishing to park in the Sports Arena to walk through the tailgate on their way to the game to experience a taste of the fun.

For those wishing to get involved, Heather said “You can come at any time, but most people show up like the hour to hour-and-a-half before the game.”

Kristi Roper, the mother of HutchCC football player Darby Roper, has been tailgating for nearly two years.

“Making connections with Blue Dragon fans has been awesome,” Kristi Roper said.  Heather Dallas has been so welcoming and is very passionate about making pregame a fun experience for everyone.”

Roper’s family’s individual game-day routine includes several steps, but she said “the lucky football gnome always has to make an appearance.

“Everyone is welcome. We would love to see students come join all of the tailgates. We’ll have a good time, and I know the Blue Dragon boys would love to have the stands full and loud on Saturday.”

Hutchinson resident and regular tailgater Michael Lizalde said this Saturday’s tailgate would be bigger due to the game’s magnitude.

“I really enjoy getting the mood set for the game,” Lizalde said. “The excitement of the game and energy in the game all starts during the tailgate. Everyone in the parking lot tailgating is family and welcome! Just come out and come up to the Dragon Wagon, Chiefs tent and the other tailgate spots.

“Tailgating is a great way to be a part of the team. We have one more game this season so it’s time to go all out.”

The tailgate this weekend can be found in the sectioned off area of the parking lot south of Stringer Fine Arts Center. It’s open to all members of the community in the leadup to Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff.

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