Homecoming Edition: Hydration key to a great tailgating experience

By Vincent Smith / Staff Writer

If Pitt football is playing at noon on a Saturday, you can bet that Andrew Hansen, senior at Pitt and a member of Pitt’s Greek Life, will be resting up Friday night for the upcoming tailgate. 

“There is nothing worse than waking up an hour before the game, realizing you have to go straight into the stadium,” said Hansen, who has helped supervise many tailgates in his days at Pitt. 

But the combination of drinking alcohol — with the sun beating down and many skipping breakfast to save on time — can have negative consequences if the celebrations are not planned correctly. 

That’s why when Hansen described a good tailgate, the focus was not solely on the beer — although that is sometimes an important aspect. “It’s nice to have a good mix of beer and food,” he said, which includes hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as a few finger foods such as chips and dip.

Marian Vanek, director of Student Health Services, echoed Hansen’s sentiments. “Having food in your stomach, particularly foods that are higher in fat or protein, will slow the absorption of alcohol,” she said over email. 

What Hansen deemed “tailgate food” is actually the best thing for your body to take in while drinking beer. 

Both Hansen and Vanek also stressed the importance of having plenty of water on hand. Vanek recommends tailgaters to “alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages” to help pace consumption and stay hydrated. Hansen was adamant that water is key: If the sun is out, beer just doesn’t cut it. 

But that doesn’t mean that a tailgate should be totally relegated to supervising those around you. On the contrary, a tailgate is an event to enjoy, which is why Hansen stressed that everyone should be of age and aid in the planning of the tailgate. If “everybody does their own part,” that ensures safety and fun, and the essentials are rarely forgotten. 

And in the planning process, successful tailgaters should also keep in mind the cleanup process. 

Earlier this past summer, Pittsburghers witnessed the harsh side effects of tailgating when country music artist Kenny Chesney played a concert at Heinz Field in July. The story was can’t-miss news, and videos that were posted on YouTube showed aggressively drunken tailgaters fighting across a landscape of flattened beer cans and broken glass. Arrests were made, many for underage drinking, and injuries were commonplace.

The cleanup effort, in the words of Leroy Stotler Jr., owner of Three Rivers Power Sweep, was, “10 times what a Steeler game would produce,” and the amount of trash warranted “approximately 4,500 garbage cans.” 

In the state of Pennsylvania, first-time littering offenders are given a $50 to $300 fine and could possibly serve time in prison. Punishment for both underage drinking and public intoxication is more stringent, beginning with fines of at least $300.

A Pitt football game is unlikely to produce the type of waste that Kenny Chesney’s fans were able to accumulate. But along with enjoying a tailgate, it is important to bag your trash and dispose of it properly. 

A good way to cut down on the amount of aluminum cans is to go with a keg of beer, if it turns out that enough people are willing to chip in. For Hansen, “a keg is the most economical way to go about it.”

Vanek also stresses the importance of control and limits. “Avoid pregaming, drinking games and chugging or gulping your drinks,” she said. Also, if you set a limit on how much you feel you should drink, stick to it, because nobody wants to see anyone get sick. That ruins everybody’s good time. 

Creativity can also aid a tailgate. Hansen recommends bringing a generator so outdoor speakers can provide music to all who attend, and it also allows those who rely on their car’s speakers to save their battery and gas. Games and activities are also a plus: They have entertainment value and a knack for being a natural distractor from guzzling beer. 

Essentially, a good tailgate should be fun and safe, and the safety should come from proper planning and responsibility. If tailgating is done properly, there are rarely any issues. 

Just stick to the wise words of Hansen: “Make sure people are tailgating responsibly, staying hydrated … and have food in their system.”