By Donna Cornelius
You can always count on some fan favorites at The Bell Center’s annual Tailgate Challenge.
Teams that compete in the football-focused fundraiser set up in full game day mode, with decorated tents, food and plenty of spirit.
University of Kentucky folks traditionally trot out their much-admired bourbon balls, and Longhorns from the University of Texas – Bell Center founder Betty Bell’s alma mater – dish up hearty chili, said Kelly Peoples, the Center’s fund development director.
The Tailgate Challenge raises money for The Bell Center in Homewood, which provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers at risk for development delay.
This year’s event on Aug. 29 likely will draw the usual SEC suspects, including Alabama and Auburn, of course. But there are always a few surprise entries, Peoples said.
“We have a team from Kansas State University signed up this year, and last year, we had a group from the University of Michigan,” she said. “And as soon as Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC, we had teams from those schools show up.”
High school teams are welcome, too. Homewood High School, Mountain Brook High School and Vestavia Hills High School will join the lineup this year, Peoples said.
Judges pick winners in three categories: food, team spirit and best all-around. There’s also a People’s Choice award voted on by those who attend the event.
“It’s fun to see how excited the team members get when the judges visit their tents,” Peoples said.
Some diehard fans go all-out with their tent decorations. An Auburn team replicated a postgame Toomer’s Corner scene with fake trees draped with toilet paper, Peoples said.
The fun begins early when some teams set up smokers and grills. Peoples said many participants have full tables of food for those who attend to sample.
“We usually have between 750 and 1,000 who come, so people can be intimated about having to provide that much food,” Peoples said. “But we tell them they just need to have enough for small samples.”
The Tailgate Challenge has so many entries that two teams of judges are required. One team will be made up of the WJOX Round Table crew: Ryan Brown, Jim Dunaway and Lance Taylor. The other judges’ group includes sports gurus Reed and Will Lochamy, who have a show on the SEC Network, and Alec Harvey from AL.com.
The Tailgate Challenge is from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in Homewood. The city’s 29th Court South and part of Central Avenue will be blocked off for the event.
In addition to food and football spirit, the fundraiser includes live music, beer from Good People Brewing Co. and a kids’ zone presented by Covenant Classical Schools.
Admission is $15 for ages 11 and older and $5 for ages 4-10.
There’s no admission charge for ages 3 and younger.
For more about the event, including information about hosting a team tent or sponsorships, visit www.thebellcenter.org or call Peoples at 879-3417.