A crowd of about 5,000 is expected to file into Max Andress Field tonight as students, teachers, parents and other fans gather for the football showdown between host Columbus North and visiting Columbus East.
The crosstown showdown likely will double the size of a regular Friday night football crowd when Olympians and Bull Dogs faithful turn out to cheer their favorite local team on to victory, Columbus North athletics director Jeff Hester said.
But before the rivalry begins at the 7 p.m. kickoff, fans wearing both blue and orange will come together for food and fun at an all-city tailgating celebration.
It will take place outside of the Columbus North stadium, where parents of football players will be cooking up classic game-day foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs, Hester said.
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Scott Ballard, a member of the Columbus North Football Booster Club who helps lead the Friday night tailgate, said the inevitable packed house at the annual North-East game means hosting this year’s pregame celebration will be a bigger job than normal.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Ballard said.
For local students who turn out, the appeal of the tailgating tradition is getting to spend time with their friends outside of school while also enjoying some of their favorite foods.
Columbus East freshman Sydney Wilson is used to spending her Friday nights rooting for the East Olympians. Her brother, Cam, is a senior wide receiver for the varsity team.
This year, Wilson will be even closer to the action as she cheers the Olympians on to what she hopes will be a victory as part of the football cheerleading team.
As she transitions from dedicated fan to cheerleader, Wilson said there’s one thing about her Friday nights that won’t change — her love of tailgating.
The 14-year-old freshman usually spends her Friday nights with the Columbus East Quarterback Club, which sets up a buffet-style meal along Marr Road in the hours leading up to kickoff. However, the club won’t host its own individual tailgate tonight because the game is being played at North.
Asked about her favorite part of Columbus East tailgating, Wilson didn’t hesitate.
“The food,” she said.
Besides the burgers and dogs, East fans also bring their own personal recipes to share with fellow Olympian fans.
A typical spread on any given Friday night at the East tailgate could include taco salads, soups, quesadillas, pizzas and any other variety of dishes that are easy to consume while seated in a lawn chair.
Wilson said she likes to whip up a dessert such as brownies for Olympian fans to share, while her favorite Friday night treat is a special ham sandwich recipe that one of the football parents likes to bring.
Across town at North, Dakota Hutson said he prefers to stick to the basic entree — a good, old-fashioned hamburger.
Hutson said he enjoys being behind the grill and cooking up classic tailgate foods for fellow Bull Dogs fans. He spends some of his time volunteering with the North Football Boosters during their Friday night tailgates to earn community service hours for the Columbus Young Marines.
But come game time, Hutson will trade in his tailgate seat for a spot in the stands so he can cheer for the Bull Dogs, especially after a touchdown.
Parents and other family members also like to join in the Friday night fun and root for the students they’ve watched grow up in the community.
Cathy Wischman, one of the organizers of the East tailgate, said her favorite part of the Friday night tradition is getting to spend time with other local families and cheer each other’s favorite players on to victory.
“The East Quarterback Club has a family-like culture,” Wischman said. “Their kids are my kids.”
Even though Ballard doesn’t have any children playing on the Bull Dogs’ football team, he said he offers his time to the Football Boosters because he enjoys hanging out with other football parents and supporting his children’s school.
In addition to the deep-rooted sense of loyalty fans of the Olympians and Bull Dogs feel to their schools, this year’s North-East game is also part of the Great American Rivalry series.
As part of the series, each school will recognize two stand-out football players for their contributions to both the rivalry game and to their academics in a pre-game ceremony at 6:40 p.m.
At North, Hester said Kyle Kamman will be recognized as a scholar athlete MVP, and David Redding will be inducted into the Rivalry Game Hall of Fame.
East athletics director Pete Huse said his school will recognize Brayden Burbrink as the scholarship MVP, while Steven O’Neal will be inducted into the Rivalry Hall of Fame.
The football teams will also share the field with members of the Sound of North and Columbus East Olympian Spirit marching bands, who will each perform their 2016 competition shows — “Slither” and “Pyramidion,” respectively — during a special, extended 20-minute halftime show.
Tonight’s tailgate will be hosted by parents of local football players starting at 6 p.m. outside of the Columbus North stadium, 1400 25th St. Traditional tailgate foods such as hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs will be served.
What you need to know for tonight’s North-East rivalry game
Kickoff: 7 p.m. at North’s Max Andress Field
Ticket prices: $5 per person
Parking: Available anywhere on school grounds