A sea of orange and blue flooded the entrance to Frank Dutton Field for the 16th annual Dawgapalooza last Friday. The yearly tailgate before the first home football game raises funds for both the Mahomet-Seymour High School athletic and music boosters.
Food, live entertainment and 15 inflatables were the featured attractions at this year's party, followed by an impressive display of Bulldog pride from the cheerleaders, color guard and marching band.
"It's nice," Michael Nickrent said. "It brings a whole bunch of people who don't normally come to games out here and a lot of the younger kids to get them in town and just know what the team's all about."
Participating in the festivities alongside Nickrent were his three children, Luke (6), Elise (3) and Matthew (6 months).
"They enjoy it," he said. "We've been coming for a few years now, and they like to get on all of the inflatables and watch the football game, too."
Darren and Tamera Hope assisted with wristband sales for the inflatables as parent volunteers for the music boosters. The couple's son, Jacob Hope, is a sophomore alto saxophonist.
Aside from watching her son perform in the band, Tamera Hope enjoyed seeing the community rally behind the Bulldogs.
"It really just brings the community closer together and gives a chance for neighbors to reconnect," she said. "Mahomet's a close-knit community. Everybody is here to support each other and give encouragement."
Fellow parent volunteer Stacy Uebelhoer, who assisted with T-shirt sales, saw the event as a way to simply celebrate school pride.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "It's a great way to start the football season and the marching band season, because, yes, they're two separate groups, but they're aiming toward the same goal — team spirit."
Chandra Steers, a former M-S volleyball coach, viewed the event as a "tradition" that continues to bring the community together year after year.
"It's just fun," she said. "The kids like to spend time with their friends and hang out. They look forward to it."
For Erica Crowe, a 1995 M-S grad, and her children, Dawgapalooza is a must-attend event.
"We come every year," Crowe said. "It's just fun to see how big it's gotten," she added. "We didn't have this back when I went to school here. It's fun for them to play with their friends in a safe environment and just have a great evening."
Erica Crowe's own boys of fall, including freshman football player Hunter Crowe and 9-year-old Cameron Crowe, who plays for Mahomet-Seymour Youth Football's Pee Wee team, were reason enough to join in Friday's fun.
"It brings everyone together," she said. "You get to know everyone. Your friends' friends are here. It's fun just to hang out and have a fun night and watch a great football game."
The tailgate tradition began with the efforts of a group of band and football parents who wanted to kick off the season with a community event. But as the parents' children graduated, the athletic and music boosters took over Dawgapalooza to keep it going.
"It was really driven initially by a small group of parents," said Max McComb, president of the M-S board of education."
Former M-S athletic director Scott Adreon decided to make the event similar to a "street festival" and incorporate three inflatables into the event.
"That was a huge financial risk back then," McComb said, "but it turned out to be very popular, and we're to the point now where we use 15 inflatables."
Dawgapalooza quickly turned into a revenue source for the athletic and music boosters, averaging approximately $7,000 each year with $3,500 assisting each booster.
Some of the larger athletic booster accomplishments include assisting with equipment needs, weight room improvements and specific sports requests.
Music boosters assist with the bands' and choirs' trips, especially when the Marching Bulldogs travel further away such as to the Fiesta Bowl.
But more than a fundraiser, Dawgapalooza gathers nearly half of its student population for an evening together.
"You figure between the band and everybody else, we probably had 40 percent of our student body involved in that activity," M-S athletic director Matt Hensley said.
Hensley believes the more students who immerse themselves in the activities, the better their high school experience.
"Those kids that are more engaged are going to have a better school experience, academics aside," he said. "It doesn't have to be an athletic-related activity. It's just getting those kids involved."
Hensley hopes Dawgapalooza continues to build the M-S culture and inspire future Bulldogs.
"You have young kids who want to be in band, who want to be in the cheer squad and who want to be on that football team," Hensley said. "Hopefully we have those events to showcase our students, then it's building the next generation of kids who want to be out there."
The event requires an army of community and parent volunteers. But, year after year, their efforts prove successful producing large involvement numbers.
"The crowd was outstanding and the response was outstanding," Hensley said. "I think it was a pretty proud night for the village of Mahomet."