Safety concerns spark changes at pre-homecoming soccer event

Students (left to right) Kevin Miller, a freshman studying bio-science from Altamont, Illinois, Michelle Duong, a freshman studying biology from Bloomington, Illinois, Matthew Jacquot, a freshman studying pre-pharmacy from Bloomington, Illinois, and Matt Aschenbrenner, a sophomore studying nursing from Minooka, Illinois, playing a friendly game of spikeball.

Due to a growing concern of safety, what was previously called the homecoming tailgate — now called The Cougar Fan Zone —  looked different this year. 

Vehicles were not allowed on the freshly paved parking lot and attendees had to pass through a single entry and exit point to have their IDs checked.

All attendees, including alumni, were asked to show identification before entering the Fan Zone. Those of legal drinking age were given red wristbands. 

While such carding measures have been taken at previous tailgates, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jeffrey Waple said the carding spot as a single entry and exit point was a new factor this year.

“Even when we carded before, it wasn’t really a carding. It was people came to a tent, they showed us an ID and they got a bracelet, but you could come and go in that area freely,” Waple said before Saturday’s festivities. “Now, there’s one entry point … everyone can enter one entry point and one exit point, which is where our third party will be fencing around for the zone.” 

Police made rounds throughout the zone to ensure safety. However, Waple said the officers’ jobs were not to strictly enforce the wristband policy.

“Now, are the police going to go and check everyone for bands? No. The police are there just to make sure people are having a good time and not acting a fool. And that’s no different than the past,” Waple said prior to the event.

Junior computer engineering major Michael Salgado, of Chicago, who attended the event, said he thought this change could be useful.

 “I feel like it does help, because [the bracelets] are more visible, so the cops can see who’s of age and who are not of age,” Salgado said. “I think it’s just easier for them.”  

This change was the result of a seemingly higher number of individuals who were overly intoxicated at last year’s event, according to Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Doug McIlhagga. In addition, McIlhagga said there was a car accident last year related to the tailgating event. 

“There were representatives of senior level management that observed what they considered to be an unusual number of overly-intoxicated individuals,” McIlhagga said. “There was an auto accident after that event too, that involved people who had been overserved. What you’re trying to prevent, of course, is someone driving away from there and having something serious happen because of their attendance at that event.”

Vehicles were prohibited from entering and parking at the event space, as this could also present a safety concern. 

“There was a great degree of concern of someone just driving off in the middle of it while the event is ongoing,” McIlhagga said. 

McIlhagga said he has not been aware of any automobile accidents that occurred on Saturday relating to the event, and police told him there were one or two altercations in the Fan Zone. He also said he did not find these reports unusual for such an event.

Catherine Jatcko, who attended the event for the second time this year, said she believes the precautions greatly reduced the number of overly-intoxicated individuals.

“I remember [when] pulling out of the parking lot last year, there were so many kids just really, really drunk getting in their vehicles or hanging around their vehicles just acting kind of crazy,” Jatcko said. “I think [the improvements] had a lot to do with cops being there, [people] checking bags and carding people. It kind of sets the tone, I guess, that it was a more monitored event, just because the cops were there and people were being checked before they came in.” 

While groups could still reserve spaces and tents within the zone this year and provide their own food, food trucks brought more dining options to the event. Waple said adding this option made for a more inclusive event, as those who were not affiliated with specific groups could have eating options. 

“That’s also not only for the students, but that’s just if you’re not an alum, and you’re not in a group, and you went into the Zone, now you have an option [to eat],” Waple said. 

Cathy Taylor, director of constituent relations and special projects at the SIUE Foundation, said this year the alumni and the university collaborated to make the event more enjoyable for all attendees. 

“This year we’ve mixed it up quite a bit,” Taylor said. “As a university we’ve come together and tried to come up with some ideas that would appeal to the students, community, alumni, staff and tried to provide an opportunity for everyone to come back together and celebrate Homecoming.”

For example, this year the entire event was entertained by one band, where in the past the alumni tent had their own band and students would bring in their own music. 

According to both Taylor and Waple, the university added more family-friendly activities.

“The Alumni Association has had some family opportunities for kids to participate, so we’ve added a couple extra bounce houses this year, photo booth, face painting, so some fun for the whole family,” Taylor said.

For a gallery of homecoming photos, visit alestlelive.com. 

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