The sky is clear blue, the crowd is dressed in red, the breeze is slight, and burgers and brats are cooking on grills…

For Denise Grasso, it’s the perfect day in Gorilla Village just east of Carnie Smith Stadium.

Grasso (BSEd ’77, MS ’82, EdS ’82), began tailgating here more than 20 years ago with a few friends from work and finger foods off of the back of someone’s truck bed.

Things have changed.

Today, the Brown Lot is full. Pop-up tents dot the landscape. Vendors and balloon artists and children’s games give it the feel of a festival. Cheerleaders and the Dance Team engage the crowd.

Grasso stops here and there to catch up with friends, ultimately choosing grilled brats and burgers by Dave DeMoss (BS ’70, MS ’71, EdS ’81), Jerry Leeds (BSBA ’73), Bob Stefanoni (BST ’71), and Dave Chiapetti. Her son, Kevin Fry (BS ’96), is there, too, reminiscing about his days as Gus Gorilla. Grasso remembers taking him as a child to football games in the early days of Coach Dennis Franchione’s career.

“There’s always been a love among fans of all ages for Pittsburg State football, and game day has always been electric — that hasn’t changed. But the magnitude of tailgating has,” said Grasso, who serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. “It’s a tradition handed down through the years, from family to family, and that tradition has been built upon into something incredible.”

Last year, tailgating for Grasso’s family took on a new meaning when Kevin’s son, Ross — her grandson — became a member of the Pride of the Plains Marching Band drum line.

“There’s always been a love among fans of all ages for Pittsburg State football, and game day has always been electric — that hasn’t changed. But the magnitude of tailgating has. It’s a tradition handed down through the years, from family to family, and that tradition has been built upon into something incredible.”  – Denise Grasso

Community

Enter Doug Whitten. He’s directed the Pride of the Plains Marching Band since 2003, and he has a lot to say about game day.

“I think we are a vital part of the game day experience,” he said. “Certainly, football is the main attraction, but our presence is a big part of why being at a game live is so much better of an experience than watching on your phone.”

At 75 minutes prior to each home game, the band, which this fall will number a whopping 175, lines the path that extends from the Centennial Bell at Axe Library, east to the Weede, and on to the Kansas Technology Center.

At the heart of it is Tom Corbin’s oft-photographed and larger-than-life bronze Gorilla statue in Championship Plaza. Tailgaters line the path, too, forming a human tunnel.

The band begins its playlist, starting with the iconic “You Don’t Want to Go to War” — a rowdy tune originally recorded by the Rebirth Brass Band.

And here come the Gorillas.

The crowd cheers.

The band plays on.

“During the walk, and the pregame, and inside the stadium, we play music that brings everyone together to support the school, community, and the nation,” Whitten said. “We get the crowd involved in the game and hope to inspire the team to give it that extra effort.”

“Football is about community as much as it is about wins and losses,” Whitten added. “Similarly, the marching band is there to support a much bigger role than just a musical experience.”

While Whitten notes that there is a legacy of excellence to uphold with the game day experience, much has changed over the years. That’s a good thing, he said.

“One of my favorite things about PSU is that, in addition to our long-held traditions, we can experiment with new ideas and create new traditions,” he said.

 

Changes

This season, fans will notice the band’s return to the student section on the east side, as it was years ago, so that they’re more closely positioned and can feed off of each other’s energy.

A new student section on the field in the north end zone — The Red Zone — will have special access and expectations.

Food vendors have been relocated this year to the parking lot, the Alumni Association has moved slightly east, and a stage has been added for the live musical entertainment and a pre-game show by ESPN 100.7.

Athletic Director Jim Johnson said his office works year-round on such changes to ensure the tailgating experience is the best it can be.

It’s come a long way, Grasso said.

“My favorite part of it all? The atmosphere,” she said. “You can feel it in the air. I truly live for football season and to quote my dad, ‘This is the best time of the year’.” •