KSU alumni share common bond through football
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 9, 2019) — Every Kennesaw State home football game starts the same for Stewart Geoghagan, who usually wraps himself in a black and gold checkered apron embroidered with school’s familiar interlocking “KS” logo five hours before kickoff.
As he flips burgers on a small folding grill, the Ayers and the Harveys – two families with whom he and his wife tailgate – nibble finger foods and talk football. The majority of the tailgaters in his clique are KSU alumni and all are season ticket holders committed to gathering every home game in their corner of the Gold Lot, which they’ve called Hooterville, both a nod to the University’s owl imagery and the fictional setting in the sitcom “Petticoat Junction.” However, what makes the group unique is that none of the families knew each other prior to KSU adding football to its athletic offerings, Geoghagan said.
Hooterville can trace its roots back to KSU’s first ever spring football game in March 2015, when both the Geoghagans and the Ayers found themselves tailgating in the same parking lot, albeit across from one another.
“We were really the only people in the lot but we were both pretty sociable, so we struck up a conversation and it just grew from there,” said Geoghagan, a 1998 business management graduate. “It’s really kind of grown into a family thing, because we do the tailgates together and now we’re starting to come together outside of football. We’re building relationships with people that we normally wouldn’t have.”
Since its inception, Geoghagan has gone on to attend every single football home game with exception of one spring game. He was also in attendance when Kennesaw State traveled to No. 3-ranked Jacksonville State in the second round of the 2017 Football Championship Series Playoffs, witnessing a 17-7 victory. He remembers hearing an ESPN commentator on the game replay making note of the noise KSU fans made during defensive stands.
“That fills me with pride,” Geoghagan said, adding that he has made his own tradition of toting a homemade version of Plank, the team’s turnover trophy, through the stadium concourse following big plays. “Here, football is a way of life. I’m going to be here until it’s gone or I’m gone, and I know it’s not going anywhere.”
Siler Ayers, a 2002 graduate who originally struck up a conversation with the Geoghagans before the first spring game, said her kin is often called the “KSU family.” They arrive to every tailgate in a Ford F250 clad with KSU magnets and flags, even driving the truck through her son’s car pickup line at school every Friday to signal an approaching game day.
“I’m trying to show everyone that this is our team and we should support them,” said Ayers, who purchased a KSU flag to hang between Georgia and Georgia Tech flags in her son’s elementary school gym.
Prior to KSU football arriving, she was a die-hard Florida State football fan making frequent trips to Tallahassee and decorating her house in Seminole gear. The minute KSU announced its plans, she and her husband rushed to the campus bookstore to buy everything needed for a tailgate: tables, chairs and tents.
“As soon as we heard football was coming, we dove in head first,” she said. “We knew that we were going to be here in the rain or sunshine, cold weather or hot weather. Since then, there has been no other place I’ve wanted to be but tailgating in Kennesaw on a Saturday.”
Having bonded with the Geoghagans and the Harveys, Ayers said they have found ways to see each other beyond tailgates. Sometimes they vacation together and have now made a tradition of holding a “preseason tailgate,” during which they gather for a cookout in celebration of a new season.
“I always joke that the football players need to practice and so do we,” she said.
Down in KSU’s Black Lot, and even larger tailgate forms on Saturdays. Known for its series of flags lining the entrance to welcome fans and for it for its post-victory grilled donuts, the Hoot House is best recognized by its branded 18-foot trailer on the back of which 2007 graduate Tom Shinall smokes meat. Attendees are often found huddled around a television watching the early football games while latecomers arrive with coolers in hand. In all, about 40 people of all ages congregate around the Hoot House in what has become a steady tradition for home games.
Like Hooterville, the Hoot House started from humble beginnings during the first season of play. What started as small acquaintances began to grow rapidly once Shinall recruited fellow alumni, who in turn brought more people they know. Now, Shinall said, there is hardly a game where Hoot House faithful aren’t in attendance, including recent trips to Kent State and Alabama State to cheer on the Owls.
“A lot of us were hungry for football when we were students here,” he said. “When the news first broke, I was all in and determined to make sure I could enjoy this opportunity to its fullest. I never anticipated it growing to this magnitude.”
Whitney Bailey, who earned a degree in elementary and early childhood education from Kennesaw State in 2009, was among those who met Shinall through the Hoot House. Now managing the tailgate’s social media presence online, she tries to recruit others to join on the action.
“I think it says a lot about the passion the folks who went here have for the university itself,” she said about the Hoot House. “I think it speaks volumes to the experiences that we had as students that we are actively looking for ways to come back.”
Photography by Jason Getz
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.