September 11, 2011

Tailgating like a champion

More news about: Franklin | UW-Whitewater
Tailgate like a champion today
The Franklin folks know how to roll out the welcome wagon.
Photo by Adam Turer 

By Adam Turer
Special to D3football.com 

FRANKLIN, Ind. -- In Around the Nation this week, Keith McMillan threw down the gauntlet for tailgating teams across the country. Franklin’s Griz Zone mirrors the Grizzlies program in many ways. As the football program has risen under coach Mike Leonard, the Franklin Touchdown Club has stepped its game up each year.

The Griz Zone tailgate, led by former Grizzlies defensive lineman and Touchdown Club board member Chris Lynch, has all of the qualities a tailgating program at this, or any level, needs to succeed. Former players, parents of former players, parents of current players, school administrators, and local businesses were all represented outside of Faught Stadium. It helped that the Grizzlies were welcoming top-ranked UW-Whitewater, but the big tailgate crowd was nothing new for the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies’ tailgates started as a group of about 20 former players grilling out. These days, hundreds of Franklin fans start filling the parking lot immediately outside the stadium five hours before kickoff. Some students secured parking spots in the next closest lot two nights before game day.

“Our tailgates have really taken off the last five years,” said Lynch, who custom built a grill with the Franklin College logo in the middle of it. “Coach Leonard wants to keep taking this team to the next level and it’s not only been exciting for alumni, but our whole town is getting into this.”

Former D3football.com All-American quarterback Chad Rupp was one of many Grizzlies alumni in attendance. Rupp was at the forefront of the program’s resurgence under Leonard and has seen the support of the program continue to build.

“I don’t think there’s any other game day atmosphere in Division II or Division III like this,” said Rupp, who spent the past two years coaching at Division II University of Indianapolis.

The atmosphere creates a recruiting edge that programs like Whitewater and Franklin use to lure both recruits and their families.

Franklin's brand goes on the grill. 
Photo by Adam Turer 

“As a parent, you can look at Franklin, see game day, and think, ‘This is where I want to spend my Saturdays for the next four years,” said Joe McGuinness, Franklin class of 2000. “As we get older, we start to realize how fortunate we are to be a part of a program that’s on the rise.”

While Franklin continues to set higher goals for its football team and program, Whitewater has reached the pinnacle and intends to stay there. The Warhawks have one of the nicest facilities in the country and try to bring that homefield advantage with them on the road.

“We had an incredible amount of alumni from all over the area come out,” said UW-W vice chancellor Jon Enslin. “I’ve been at this university for 15 years. The change in support for football, and other sports, has been great and has really grown over the last five or six years.”

Chuck Heinrich, a Whitewater alum from the 1966 NAIA national runner-up team, lives in Indianapolis and began planning a Whitewater game day at Franklin as soon as the schedule was released in April. He found The Willard, a former hotel in Franklin, to host the Warhawks for their tailgate. Joe Schofield, who has owned The Willard since 1990, wanted to make the Warhawks feel at home and cooked bratwurst for the first time.

“It’s very exciting for us and it’s nice to be able to host somebody,” said Schofield. “This is a wonderful town and Franklin College makes it terrific.”

For the record, Heinrich and the other Wisconsinites were impressed with the quality of the brats.

More than 100 Warhawks parents and alums made the trip to Franklin. The teams met at Whitewater in the first round of last year’s playoffs and the Grizzlies traveling fans made a strong impression. The Warhawks returned the favor this year, albeit with much lower stakes. The two top-25 teams are now competing not just for pride on the gridiron, but also on the grill.

“This has become a great friendly rivalry over the past two years,” said Whitewater athletic director Paul Plinske. “The coaches love each other, there is no recruiting crossover, and it’s not too long of a trip. We hope this is something that can continue.”

Turnout is a key ingredient to a good game day, and both schools provided plenty of fans. The home stands were at capacity by kickoff. The visitors’ stands were nearly full. Hundreds of fans remained outside the stadium, where they could continue tailgating and still have a mostly unobstructed view of the game.

Food is the next key ingredient. While the Warhawks enjoyed The Willard in downtown Franklin, the Griz Zone had 20 yards of tables lined with nearly every conceivable tailgate food. Homemade hand-cut french fries were deep-fried on site. The Franklin Touchdown Club sells tailgate-specific shirts, which are very popular around town. Several parents of former players continue to come back for game day at Franklin. After four years, they fell in love with game day at Faught and are always welcome back in the Griz Zone.

“This is a great atmosphere for Division III football,” said Warhawks head coach Lance Leipold before kickoff. “We’re excited about it.”

Mike Leonard studies Leipold and the Whitewater program closely. The Grizzlies have asserted their place as a Top 25 team with playoff expectations every year. The next step is to become a championship threat. Leonard hopes that Franklin can become a name on par with Whitewater, recognized by D3 fans nationwide. That level of success means more than just winning football games.

“Everybody in the Franklin community realizes the importance of team,” said Leonard. “Winning can really carry over into other areas.”

One of those areas is the game day experience. Leonard goes beyond X’s and O’s and has worked at crafting a game day experience at Franklin. In last year’s season finale against Hanover, the Grizzlies started a new tradition with players walking through the Griz Zone prior to pregame warmups. It connects the players with their community and vice versa.

“Our tailgating is really going to the next level,” said Leonard. “When I started here, we had two Touchdown Club board members; now, we have 12. That takes pressure off of me, and I can focus more on recruiting and coaching.”

While you might think a tailgate is just pregame food and drinks for parents and alums, Leonard knows how important it is to cultivate a culture of community support.

It is no surprise that many of the biggest D3 tailgates come from programs with a track record of success.

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Bridgewater State 34, Fitchburg State 25
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
Box Score
Final
MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
Box Score Recap
Final
at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
Box Score
Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
Box Score
Final
at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
Box Score
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
Box Score
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
Box Score
Final
at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
Box Score
Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
Box Score
Final
at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
Final
at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
Box Score
Final
at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
Box Score
Final
at Springfield 28, WPI 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
Box Score Recap
Final
at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
Final
at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
Box Score Recap
Final
at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
Box Score Photos
Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
Final
at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
Box Score
Final
Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
Box Score
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
Box Score
Final
at Centre 49, Chicago 27
Box Score
Final
at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
Box Score Recap
Final
Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
Box Score
Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
Box Score
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score
Final
Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
Box Score
Final
at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
Box Score
Final
Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
Box Score Photos
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
Box Score
Final
at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
Box Score
Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
Box Score
Final
at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
Box Score
Final
at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
Final
Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
Box Score
Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
Box Score
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
Box Score
Final
Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
Final
at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
Box Score
Final
at Ripon 33, Knox 19
Final
Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
Box Score
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
Box Score
Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
Box Score
Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
Box Score Photos
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
Box Score
Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
Video Live Stats
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score Recap
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap