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Setting An Example: Are Parents Sending A Mixed Message With Tailgating?

Photo reproduced with permission from the Westport News
Pre-Game Celebrations: A group of parents tailgating before a recent Staples football game.

It’s a cool Friday night in October. Football players navigate the turf faster and faster as they hear shouts and hollers from the white-clad audience. The band plays; the cheerleaders leap. All is well at Staples High School.

In the parking lot, though, just before the game, there’s a party with red Solo cups, car trunks decked with coolers and grills, tables stocked with potato chips and sandwiches. But the partiers aren’t students stealing a forbidden drink before the game.

They’re parents.

Despite Staples’ dry campus policy, which forbids alcohol on campus, there have been reports of parents—from Staples and elsewhere—drinking on campus both during Friday night varsity football games and at tailgating events held prior to the games.

Tim, a parent who asked that his last name not be used,, admitted to drinking alcohol prior to at least one high school football game.

“It’s American to drink at a tailgate,” Tim said. “I don’t see the problem with drinking a beer or two before a football game. It’s not like I’m going to an event like Back-to-School Night or one of the school plays.”

Principal John Dodig said police have informed him in the past that adults were seen during games drinking in the wooded area behind the field. Other parents said that they too have seen adults drinking, at games or at tailgate parties in the parking lots.

According to Dodig, Board of Education policy specifically prohibits alcohol consumption on school property. While he said he has never actually seen it, he would remind tailgaters of the policy if he came across any activity.

“There’s nothing wrong with adults drinking; it’s part of Western culture,” Dodig said. “Just not on school grounds.”

Not everyone has seen tailgate drinking or believes it happens. For example, varsity football co-captain James Frusciante ’13 said he doesn’t think parent drinking occurs at parent tailgates or at actual games.

“In my three years of varsity football, the stands have never once been anything other than a motivation,” Frusciante said.

Athletic Director Marty Lisevick said he also has never actually witnessed parents drinking at any game, but the possibility is so real that it’s the chief reason he employs a police presence at the games.

“Stuff like that [alcohol consumption] is misplaced at a high school event,” Lisevick said. “That’s why I have eight to ten police officers at the games.”

Students’ reactions to the prospect of parents drinking at or before games was clear: no one wants to see it. Some said it was unfair, others that parents drinking at a school tailgate was just bizarre. And seeing one’s own parents participating in tailgating, some said, would be humiliating.

Generally, parents drinking is okay, Julia Greene ’15 said, “but if they got drunk at a game, I would be wildly embarrassed.”

Matthew Bader ’15 posed a question: “If we can’t do it, why can they?”

The message from most adults was the same: parents set examples for their children, and drinking at a high school sporting event reflects poorly. Said Karyn Morgan, assistant principal for the freshman class, “Practice what you preach. If you want your kids to do the right thing, you have to be doing the same.”

Many agreed. “It’s not a great example to set, especially at a sporting event,” said Joanne Proctor, a parent who dropped off her middle school-aged children at the Sept. 21 football game against Bridgeport Central High School.

For Patrick Kelly, president of the Gridiron Club, a volunteer organization dedicated to fundraising for the Staples football program, there is too much student drinking at all sporting events around Fairfield County, not just football and not just at Staples.

“Parents and fans have an obligation to set a positive example and follow the guidelines regarding alcohol on school property,” Kelly added.

According to Westport Police and D.A.R.E. Officer Ned Batlin, Westport does not have an open container law, nor are there any federal laws on the subject. If containers were brought to a football game, Batlin said, the school staff would have to take appropriate action.

“The Westport Police Department wants the entire community to be able to enjoy the lights in a fun and safe environment,” Batlin said. “We hope everyone makes safe and responsible decisions.”

He added that there is no town ordinance for public intoxication, but if individuals were to be caught drinking on campus, they could be charged with Breach of Peace or Disorderly Conduct, both state laws. The people charged would then likely be deemed a danger to themselves or others and sent to a nearby hospital.

“The person must be acting in a way that meets the standard to use those charges,” Batlin said. “Intoxication itself is not a violation of the law.”

Batlin said as well that police officers arrive on campus before the start of a large event to provide additional security and that they do patrol parking lots as well.

Rebecca Burton, a parent of two Staples graduates, was responsible for checking admission tickets before fans entered the Sept. 21 Bridgeport Central game. She said that she did not allow parents or students to enter the game with beverages of any sort.

“Not even coffee,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a wholesome family event. This is a game, not ‘wanna drink?’”

Tim, the anonymous parent, said the tailgating issue masks much larger problems in the community.

“Drinking is something that’s kept pretty hush-hush in Westport,” Tim said. “We know the kids at Staples are drinking, we know that there are parents who are throwing back bottles of wine every night, but I’m still the bad guy because I want to enjoy a beer with my buddies at a tailgate?”

Tom Prangley, father of three Staples students, offered the most direct advice: “If you want to have a drink, stay at home.”

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Jamie Wheeler-Roberts
Jamie Wheeler-Roberts, News Editor
Jamie Wheeler – Roberts, who loves to write and edit for the paper, has a passion for journalism as well as something else. Jamie is a girl who along with loving journalism loves to travel.  Because her mom works for an airline, flying alone at a young age is natural to her. She’s traveled across the world, from Europe to Australia, and has plenty of stories to go with it. “I like going to new places and seeing how different others live their lives compared to ours,” said Jamie ‘13. Jamie is still aspiring to travel more, as she looks forward to hopefully attending college in London. Besides getting to live in a foreign country, she can also focus on her interest in Social Studies which she has indulged over the years by taking courses at Princeton during the summer.  At college though, she wants to focus on her specific passion for International Relations. Jamie has been active in clubs such as JSA, the debate team and student ambassador.  However, during her last few years at Staples she has spent more time at Inklings where she likes making the paper.

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