But before the ball is teed up, many fans will gather to fulfill a tradition nearly as old as the game itself: tailgating.
Tonight at 5:30 on the practice field outside Northcutt Stadium, the school will welcome members of its True Blue Club, MHS teachers and staff from around the district — and their families — to a special tailgating event before the Blue Devils’ first football game of the season against Etowah High School.
Hap Smith, MHS Class of 1968 and voice of the Blue Devils, said the event first started about 25 years ago when the True Blue Club was founded.
“Basically, we have a lot of people in the community — even some who don’t come to games — who write a nice check toward the program,” he said. “And these are people who have been supporting it for decades. And we call them the True Blue Club, and their names are on the side of the stadiums.”
After the group was formed, Smith said the school wanted to show appreciation for their sponsors, so they decided to hold a potluck before every game. The appreciation dinner used to be held in the “True Blue Room” inside Northcutt Stadium.
Leigh Colburn, principal of MHS for the last 10 years and member of the MHS Class of 1983, said the dinners eventually became big family events, so they had to be moved to a larger venue: the football team’s practice field.
“When it was just the True Blue Club, and you just had the little True Blue Room over there, it just was never big enough to do that. So, what we did back in the ’80s and ’90s was much more informal. Not that this is a formal dinner, but it is an organized event.”
Harris Hines, presiding justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, has been a MHS football season ticket holder for more than 40 years. He moved to Marietta in 1969, and became a part of the MHS community, he said. His son, Hap, was a member of the Class of 1996 and played football at MHS and the University of Georgia, and his daughter, Mary Margaret, was a member of the Class of 1991 and was an accomplished soccer player.
Justice Hines said while the tailgating event was relatively small when it began, it took off in about 2000.
“It really wasn’t as much back then at all,” he said. “It’s gotten bigger and bigger. And it’s really a neat thing to do and to be with your family and be with your friends.”
Today, the school rents a large tent and arranges tables and chairs for several hundred people, Smith said, adding it’s not a potluck anymore.
“Somebody from the community sponsors the event now; we don’t have (a) covered dish (dinner),” he said.
Colburn said past sponsors and caterers have included The Varsity and Five Guys. Tonight, food will be provided by Bar-B-Cutie and the event will be sponsored by BB&T Bank and Justice Hines.
“How many people have a Supreme Court justice as a sponsor of a Friday night tailgating? Pretty impressive. And he’s a great supporter of our football program, he and Helen both — his wife,” Smith said.
Blue Devil community
Paul Hall, athletic director at MHS and member of the Class of 1989, said even before the tailgates became what they are today, the Marietta community’s presence could be felt at Northcutt Stadium.
“There were people tailgating, but we didn’t necessarily use this field as much as we do now, simply because this was our practice field,” he said. “So, more of the tailgating happened in the parking lots, over in front of the school, behind the big blue gym, over there in the parking lot down at Westside (Elementary) School. But I mean, people all in these neighborhoods were out in their yards. It was still a Friday night atmosphere.”
Hall played football at MHS and coached the team for 14 years, but he said it wasn’t until he became the school’s athletic director that he experienced the scale of what goes on outside the lines on Friday nights because he was always focused on the game.
“My first year as AD — Colburn will laugh when I tell you this — I said, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t realize all this other stuff happens.’”
Colburn said mayors, congressmen and judges have attended the tailgates over the years. The thing she enjoys most about the tailgates, however, is seeing the future of the city and her school.
“My favorite parts of the tailgates are the little kids playing football and running around. And if you … come, what you’ll see is this generation of future Blue Devils, which to me, just gives me so much hope and optimism and excitement. They’ve all got their Blue Devil jerseys on, and the little girls their Blue Devil cheerleading costumes on. And they’re everything from just learning to walk up to 8, 9, 10 years old. And they are covering this field. And so, they’re all running around in all their little Blue Devil spirit. And that’s my favorite part of the tailgate — just watching all the little kids be so excited to be at the high school that they want to attend someday,” she said.
Colburn added she believes in raising the whole community to be Blue Devils and the tailgating event is a way of creating that kind of culture.
The games at Northcutt Stadium bring the community together in support of the team, Hines said, which is good for the residents and good for the city. Both his son and daughter, and his grandchildren, are coming to Marietta to take part in the evening, he said.
“There’s nothing more festive than being in Northcutt Stadium on a Friday night,” Hines said.