By Alan Sorensen
I went to the Northern Lights tailgate party sponsored by the Hill County Tavern Association last Saturday and had a great time.
I went, with some trepidation, to help raise money for the fledgling Lights football team. My hesitation was due to the effect I feared my Friday column might elicit from MSU-Northerns more ardent fans.
Needless to say, there were those who eyed me suspiciously and others who were downright amazed I was brave or foolish enough to attend the fund-raiser.
My column, for those who didnt read it (but not for those who arent reading this one), questioned the extremely high cost of parking vehicles in the publicly-owned stadium while attending a state-funded athletic event for which a general admission fee is already charged.
My idea of a fund-raiser is a $1,000-a-plate meal people pay for at the end of which they have to listen to a bunch of boring speakers. There is nothing public about it. There also are fund-raisers in which people buy raffle tickets or bid outlandish prices for works of art.
Even the tailgate party held in the small parking lot outside the lower south doors to the Northern gym was a come-or-not affair.
The difference here, as I see it, is that Northerns football games are paid for in large part by taxpayers dollars and are of immense public interest. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it after-dinner speaker.
I had intended to write a rebuttal to that column this week, but I cant, in all conscience, do that.
My questions, which went unanswered during the tailgate party, concern three types of football fans.
First and foremost among these are the college students who like to go to football games. Are they so much richer than I was 30 years ago that they can afford to dish out $100, $200 or $300 to take their cars or trucks into the stadium?
Then there are the people who have trouble walking.
When I go to high school or college football games alone, which is most of the time, I walk from my home on Seventh Avenue.
But when 3-wheeler Keeler goes along, we drive and park as close to the west end of the field as possible so Dan doesnt have so far to walk to the restroom. He volunteered to buy my season parking permit this year until we found out the cost.
Well limit Dans attendance to the Ponies Friday night contests, but he will be going to the tailgate parties.
Next come the parents of out-of-town Lights. What about a couple who drives all the way from Glendive or Hamilton to watch junior play maroon-and-gold football? Do these parents have to park five blocks from the field and walk in?
I mentioned a possible solution to a Northern official at the tailgate party last Saturday and he suggested I go for it. My thought was that since the price of the parking permits is not going to come down, maybe some of Northerns wealthier benefactors could sponsor athletic department ducats.
A certain number of the season passes could be held at the athletic department office for students, handicapped fans and out-of-town relatives.
People who want to use those permits could call a few weeks in advance and reserve the tickets. There would, of course, be a small fee, perhaps the $10-per-game fee that is currently being charged for the spots that have gone unsold for the season.
My big question, though, is What about the planning?
I was told by the person most responsible for the demise of football at Northern 28 years ago that this time its different. Thats for sure, but it still seems to me that the high cost of the football team should have been allowed for when it was reintroduced.
All of a sudden, 1,000 or more paying customers providing more than $20,000 in gate receipts over a 5-game season isnt enough. Charging $6 for stadium parking and keeping $3 isnt enough.
As I recall when football was dropped, there were high expectations that the basketball and wrestling programs would improve. Well, folks, they did, if national titles constitute improvement.
If there is the slightest chance that the basketball, volleyball and wrestling programs will suffer because of the financial gluttony of football, then Id say some more planning should have gone into the program before the pads were purchased.
Since theyve already been purchased, though? Go Lights! Pass the kielbasa.