Penn State

Tailgaters vie for homecoming grill competition crown

Alyssa Neimeyer, operations director for the homecoming executive committee, samples food at a tailgate during the homecoming tailgate competition on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.
Alyssa Neimeyer, operations director for the homecoming executive committee, samples food at a tailgate during the homecoming tailgate competition on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. CDT photo

“JoePa-tatoes” were a hit at Mat Stoudnour’s Penn Sate tailgate party Saturday morning.

His family and friends made the shredded potato and cheese breakfast food for the larger Penn State breakfast-themed tailgate party they hosted in the lot behind Beaver Stadium.

About 50 members of their group, The Broad Top Area Tailgate Society, have been tailgating at Nittany Lion home games since the 1960s, Stoudnour said, but the society was established in 2005.

The group consists of three generations of Penn State alumni dating as far back as 1968, when Stoudnour’s uncle, Steve, graduated.

On Saturday, for the second time in two years, they were named overall champions of the annual Penn State Student-Alumni Tailgate Competition hosted by the Penn State homecoming committee.

It was a tradition started about 10 years ago as a way to “celebrate student and alumni tailgate traditions through a friendly competition of spirit, creativity and fun,” said Kristine Zangrillo, homecoming public relations director.

The competition was an open event for students and alumni.

Judging of eight tailgates began at 9 a.m. A winner was chosen by 11:30 a.m., just before the noon kickoff at Beaver Stadium for the homecoming football game against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Each tailgate was judged by members of the Homecoming Executive Committee and members of the Alumni Relations committee, and graded on creativity, food, spirit and overall atmosphere, said Penn State junior and judge Madison Benfield.

The judges then collaborated and chose winners for Most Spirited, Most Creative, Best Overall and Best Food, Zangrillo said.

Zangrillo said participants signed up online and registered their tailgate for the event.

They included tailgates spearheaded by Stoudnour, David Bennett, Virginia DiRienzo, Colin Kelly, Jason and Carol Goft, Stephanie Hawk, Dave Ostrow and Paul Podwika.

Bennett’s tailgate won most spirited tailgate, Podwika’s tailgate won for best food and Ostrow’s tailgate won for most creative.

Benfield said the winners received a gift basket.

“For us, it’s all about the food,” Bennett, of Maryland, said. “We take a lot of pride in our cooking.”

He was the grill master who made sausage and eggs, and other treats, for anyone who stopped by. But his tailgate is most known for a homemade pizza-type snack that he and wife, Lesli, usually make hundreds of.

Bennett’s tailgate, Uncle Dave’s Famous Tailgate, has been stationed near Gate E of Beaver Stadium for about 10 years, and next to Paul Frankhouser’s, who retired from the tailgate competition after winning four of six competitions he enrolled in.

The Homecoming Committee presented Frankhouser with the Tailgate Competition Lifetime Spirit Award in 2012 after he stepped down.

But the Penn State pride remained at his tailgate. Frankhouser said he and his family arrived to the stadium just after 7 a.m. to set up.

Other participants also said they took most of the morning to prepare before the 8 a.m. rush.

Stoudnour said it took he and his friends and family three hours to set up their tailgate, which included an all-breakfast spread and live entertainment.

Members of the group each wore “Dominate the Tailgate” shirts. Proceeds of shirt sales were to go toward a scholarship fund through Tussey Mountain Junior/Senior High School in Saxton.

“We’re going to have fun; that’s what we do, but we also want to help out with something when we can,” Stoudnour said.