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From the grill to the goal line

Members of the 7 a.m. Tailgate crew keep tradition alive at Elon

The 7 a.m. Tailgate crew from left: David Rich ’87, Mike Cross, David Oakley ’91 & Brian Martindale ’95.

By Kyle Lubinsky ’17

Tailgating has long been part of sports. The idea of food, drinks and an opportunity to spend time with friends and family before a sporting event is a time-honored tradition, and one that is sometimes heralded as more important than the game itself.

At Elon the tailgating tradition is alive and well, thanks in large part to the 7 a.m. Tailgate crew, known for arriving promptly at 7 a.m., regardless of the game’s start time. The group first came together in 2001, when Brian Martindale ’95 and David Rich ’87 were eager to get together at the new Rhodes Stadium. As time went on, football alumnus David Oakley ’91 joined the group, bringing culinary expertise that allowed for a wide variety of foods to be cooked on game day.

The fourth member of the crew, Mike Cross, is not an Elon alumnus, but that doesn’t prevent him for having the same enthusiasm for Elon athletics. A Burlington resident, Cross and his wife began sending their children to basketball, cheer and soccer camps at the university in the 1990s. Since then his involvement at Elon has only grown. Like the other members of the tailgate crew, he is a member of the Phoenix Club, the donor program for Elon Athletics. Cross feels a special connection to the school, as he has served as the chairman of the Phoenix Club Advisory Board for the past seven years. “All of us are members,” he says referring to the tailgate crew. “Our mission is to advocate for student-athletes at Elon and help with fundraising for athletic scholarships.”

Mike Cross, a member of the 7 a.m. Tailgate crew, serves as the chairman of the Phoenix Club Advisory Board.

But when they are tailgating, the goal is to ensure all in attendance have a good time. “We typically have a food theme for each game and set the menu before the season starts,” Cross says. “We cook a whole pig for Homecoming, have a seafood boil at the final home game and try to have a diverse menu throughout the year, but pork is the specialty.” On game days, the men can be found setting up a large grill that Oakley tows to every home game. The smell of the grill often brings new visitors to the tailgate, and many become regulars.

Some years ago, the men decided to start tailgating at games beyond football. In their five years as a foursome, they have tailgated every sport except for golf, cross-country and track. But while the team has branched out, football is still the main attraction. The operation has also expanded over time, mostly through word-of-mouth. Their Twitter account, @Elon7amTailgate, offers updates and pictures from their get-togethers, which now include family and friends, and anyone else who is looking to have a good time.

“We have satellite TV set up to keep an eye on college football games throughout the day, have cornhole competitions and enjoy having the Elon band stop by and play music on their way into the stadium,” Cross says. “Most football Saturdays, we serve an average of 120 people at the tailgate. We provide the main course and everyone brings a side dish.”

Over the years, the 7 a.m. Tailgaters have only gained momentum. On any given Saturday, one can find at their tailgates visitors from the university’s administration and trustees, to the Elon athletics staff and coaches, all the way to the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, and they are only looking to grow.

Keren Rivas,
2/10/2017 10:40 AM