The smell of seasoned chicken, hamburgers and hot-dogs filled the air. Two guys tossed a football and two more kicked a soccer ball. Grill master Matt Walker stood at his tabletop grill post as he knows the drill — hungry teenage boys eat anything.
He was stationed to make sure none of his buddies grabbed one of his chicken drumsticks before it was cooked to perfection.
When the Andover High School football team made its way to Lovely Field before last Friday night's home game against Lowell, the spirit of this group of 20 senior boys was obvious. Their tailgating party has become a ritual before every home game this season.
Most wore Halloween costumes as it was Oct. 31, but some chose not to. It's that kind of gathering. There's no pressure, no rules. You just have to have some school spirit.
In fact, football coaches came over to the tailgaters to thank the group for their season-long support as last Friday night was the last nighttime home football game. (The Thanksgiving Day game on Nov. 27 versus Central Catholic is a home game at 10 a.m.) Offensive coordinator Pat Finn even asked the tailgaters to select the first offensive play of the game, a tailgating salute from Finn.
Teachers and AHS Principal Peter Anderson have stopped by in the past to grab a bite to eat while lending their support to the school's football team.
"We decided to take the reins this year and keep this going," AHS senior Joe LaMagna explained. "Tailgating before home games started last year."
He said it's a "senior thing" as the Class of 2009 will be alumni, no longer students, in just six months.
"It's a great way for us guys to be together," LaMagna said.
The group is a cross-section of AHS students.
"We're just here to show our support for the football team," said Kyle Rillahan, a senior basketball player.
"They come out for us, so we come out for them," added Connor Arnold, another AHS senior hoops player.
Styrofoam coolers filled with hamburgers, hotdogs, soda by the 12-pack and whatever else they could find in their family's refrigerators were on hand in the parking lot near the field house. Everyone brings something to this party and if you don't, you don't eat and you don't stay, they said.
A not-too-loud boom box plays music while numerous senior boys come and go during the two-hour tailgate party, always held from 5 to the football game's 7 p.m. kickoff.
The tailgating crowd often appears on the AHS television show so the party once again came alive as a cameraman arrived for taping.
Unfortunately, Andover High lost to Lowell in the final minutes of the game.
"It's not about winning or losing," LaMagna said. "We're just here to show support and that goes either way."