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Tackling Tailgating

A lot of schools hold tailgate parties before their Friday night football games—that's certainly not a new idea. But how about a tailgate party that generates a profit of $18,000 in one night with virtually no cost to the school? That's how much Forestview High School raised this year.

by Robert Carpenter

We held our first tailgate party in 1999, when our school was just a year old. The PTA was looking for a way to give our school its own identity and sense of community, and suggested organizing a big tailgate party with food, games, and activities. I was on board with the idea, and also realized it had great fundraising potential—which has certainly turned out to be the case.

We hold one large-scale tailgate party each year before a game in late September. We make money by selling two products: T-shirts and food. We invite a local restaurant to donate time and materials to prepare the food we sell at the event. In exchange, they receive free advertising and promotion on the local television news station, which does live check-ins all day. In about three hours, we sell 2,500 to 3,000 plates of food for $7 each.

We create a special "tailgate T-shirt" each year for the event. Local businesses buy ad space on the back of the student-designed T-shirts. The advertising completely pays for the shirts so every sale we make is pure profit. Each year more and more businesses want to buy space for their logos because the T-shirts are seen around town long after the tailgate party is over.

T-shirts and food raise the money, but the atmosphere is what draws the crowd. In the three hours before the game starts, there is so much activity that some have compared it to a county fair. Our school clubs set up booths and organize games, which gives them a chance to make some money and gets non-athletes involved with the event. We've had putt-putt contests, basketball shoots, DJs, bands, antique cars, and even a climbing wall.

The keys to pulling off a tailgate party of this magnitude are organization and delegation. The Forestview PTA is a large, well-run group that handles nearly every planning detail. Their first step each fall is to recruit as many parent volunteers as possible. They have everything down to a science—each year, they pass around a notebook that lists each task along with the number of people needed. Volunteers fill in the blank spaces until every job is covered. The tailgate party wouldn't be the success it is without this level of organization.

Our annual tailgate has become a must-attend event for our community, with new vendors and businesses involved each year. The party is never the same—but that's part of the fun.

Robert Carpenter is the Principal at Forestview High School in Gastonia, N.C. He can be reached at:

A version of this story appeared in Fundraising For Sports' sister publication, Athletic Management. is brought to you by a recognized and established name in the school athletics arena, MomentumMedia—publisher of Athletic Management, Coaching Management and Training & Conditioning magazines.