For the last several years, Mahomet-Seymour High School's head football coach Keith Pogue has held a lift-a-thon to stir excitement in his football program, but this year he wanted to try something new.
"We wanted to jazz that up to get them excited," Pogue said.
Last Saturday's Mahomet-Seymour High School Preseason Tailgate Bash did just that.
"We wanted to give them a sense that we're trying to build a family atmosphere," Pogue said. "It feels good. I think we're headed in that direction."
Pogue conceptualized the family-friendly event with a lift-a-thon at the Mahomet IGA parking lot followed by a three-hour long tailgate party, player introductions, season preview, halftime activities, scrimmage and a parent meeting.
Items for bid included a homemade pizza kit, ice cream sundae supply kit, Illini football basket, two Illinois football tickets, $500 in gift cards to area stores at the Tuscola Factory Outlets and much more.
"I think it's phenomenal for the community," parent representative Kendra Thomas said. "It makes us seem like a smaller town than we really are and that we're all out there supporting one another."
Carly Pogue, who is the daughter of M-S head football coach Keith Pogue, helped sell T-shirts during the tailgate.
"I think it's a really good event," she said. "It brings everyone together and gets everyone pumped to support the football team throughout the whole season."
As the daughter of the head football coach, Carly Pogue joked that fall is a rather "busy" time at her house.
"It's very football, football, football," she said.
But Carly Pogue also participates in the autumn activities as a color guard captain in marching band.
"We're just at all of the football events all of the time," she joked. "We're big Bulldog fans for sure."
Player introductions not only included the high school football team but also the Mahomet-Seymour Youth Football League's teams.
Danielle Deck, of Mahomet, was thrilled to watch her son, who plays in the Pee Wee league, be announced from the home stands at Frank Dutton Field on Saturday.
"I lived in a big town so we didn't have any of this growing up," she said. "We, at least my husband and my son, go to every football game."
"My daughter's on the color guard this year as an incoming freshman," Deck added. "I just like the smalltownness."
Also announced during Saturday's introductions were the Mahomet-Seymour High School cheerleaders. Freshman Maddie Mawson, who also cheered during her seventh- and eighth-grade years, said fans can expect to see a few new things from the stands this year.
"We've been working really hard in practice," she said. "We always have fun, even if someone is down, we always get back."
Fellow freshman cheerleader Annilee Griffeth, who also cheered during her seventh- and eighth-grade seasons, said she enjoys cheering along to the school song the most.
"The school song is pretty cool," she said.
Griffeth's favorite part of being on the cheer squad is being able to practice on the football field, have fun and bond with her teammates.
"We recently went to this dog sanctuary by Philo and we just went and washed some dogs and played with them," she said.
M-S coach Pogue was "overwhelmed" by the amount of parental and community support in the stands as well as the participation in the raffles and silent auctions.
"It was one of those deals where we put it out on social media and parents and businesses wanted to become a part of it," he said.
Pogue said businesses were coming to the football program asking how they could be involved in the M-S Preseason Tailgate Bash.
"They've been a big help with Bulldog football and they were a big part of getting things rolling for us," he said.
Though results for the final amount raised were unknown at press time, Pogue said he is confident the Preseason Tailgate Bash earned between $1,200 and $1,300.
"It'll go to the football program," he said, "but a lot of that money is already spent on equipment and everything."
More than anything, Pogue said he hopes the tailgate provided a community hub at Frank Dutton Field and will ignite community members' excitement about the Bulldogs' football season, which begins next Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the road in Washington.
"It's a great place to connect and I think a lot of communities have lost it," Pogue said. "We go to a lot of other places and we don't see other support. We see bands with 15 members, teams that don't have a varsity cheer squad and they have a few scattered parents in the stands."
"We want to hold onto that experience," he added. "It's a worthwhile thing. It's good for the football program and it's good for our school, but it's really good for our community to cheer on the band and cheer on our football program on Friday nights."Pogue looks to continue the energy around his football program Friday, Aug. 17, at 6 p.m. when the fall sports teams and coaches will be introduced at the high school's kickoff. Following player announcements, scrimmages will take place for the boys' soccer team at Middletown Field and the football team at Frank Dutton Field.