Tailgating a Union College tradition

The tailgaters for Union College football games have the dedication of mail carriers — and they eat

The tailgaters for Union College football games have the dedication of mail carriers — and they eat a lot better, too.

“Especially when the temperatures drop down, we’re still in shorts enjoying ourselves. Nothing keeps us away. Even if my son’s not playing, it’s Union family,” said Don Schuck of Yorktown.

Schuck and his wife, Debbie, are part of a horde of parents who fill the parking lot next to the stadium before and after football games. They arrive hours early and unload cars that are packed with tables, coolers of food and drinks, dining accessories and — in extreme cases — a small grill. Embodying the Scout motto, these people bring in everything they need and take out what they’ve used.

“We follow the tradition of the [New York] Giants tailgating,” Schuck said. “I’m the first one to open up the lot. Eight thirty, I’m here. Got to reserve my spot.”

At the Oct. 8 game against Hobart College, Schuck and his small group of about five people enjoyed French toast for breakfast and a traditional morning spirit. “We start out with our bloody marys and then it’s whatever goes,” he said, which elicited a call to do shots of Jägermeister.

At halftime of the game they typically come back out to the parking lot and have some more food and a few more drinks.

Schuck demonstrates his support for the team with a flag he travels with. It has its own base that he plants next to his truck and it has a pole that stretches more than 10 feet with a maroon flag on the top representing the team. He is pretty adamant about using the team’s colors, to the point where they also have maroon cups.

“Because red is not allowed at any of our tailgates. Red is [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute],” he said. After saying that, Schuck is targeted for some good-natured ribbing by friends in his group.

It’s a two-hour ride for Schuck and his family, but that doesn’t stop them from cooking a diverse menu before the game.

Debbie Schuck said they even make family favorites, like Penne a la Vodka for her daughter.

“So far this morning … we had kielbasa with pretzels and honey mustard, we had some grilled asparagus with prosciutto, we had some grilled figs with prosciutto and grilled cheese, some French toast and we had some steak,” she said. “We try to do something different. A lot of little stuff.”

Debbie Schuck said they’ve been doing this for the two years since their son started playing and it becomes a whole day of eating.

The players have a separate spread at an adjacent tent. “The boys get fed over there by the moms and we’ll stay here and grill up some steaks. Today we’re doing some sliders,” she said.

The food for these types of events can be purchased at most grocers, but some stores specialize in offering the necessities for a good tailgate. At the Meat House, a chain of butcher shops, there is even a specific package for tailgating at the Clifton Park branch.

The assistant general manager at the branch in Wilton touted their sausages, sliders, bratwursts and their ability to provide a whole pig for roasting. “We are your full-service butcher shop. We’ll find you whatever you need,” he said.

The food tent for the players is overseen by Theresa Gallo of Brunswick, who has two seniors on the team. The Gallos got involved when their kids were freshmen, but had done similar things when their kids were in high school. Another one of her sons played for the team and graduated in 2003 before the parents had begun serving the players.

“My husband and I bring the basic stuff and set it up, like the warming trays. Other parents drop off trays of food,” she said.

The players choose from a buffet set up under a maroon canopy. There are silver heating trays that are empty before the game, but will eventually be stocked with enough food to fill dozens of hungry young men.

“It’s a blast to serve them. They’re always polite and thankful. They appreciate it. It’s terrific,” said Gallo. “They’ll eat anything, but they’ll eat better after we win.”

The pregame festivities are relatively simple for Gallo and her group, but that doesn’t speak to their dedication, as they travel with the team wherever they go. “People are most surprised that we do this on away games, that we take this act on the road,” she said. One year they went to Maryland, she said, “and that was a challenge.”

Gallo said she hopes the tradition of serving the players will continue, which is why they’re always trying to recruit the parents of freshmen.

“I feel really lucky to be a part of it,” she said.

At Saturday’s game against RPI, Don Schuck has big plans for the homecoming game. “We’re roasting a pig,” he boasts.

Categories: Schenectady County

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