By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Ron and Carol Cope Stadium will be rocking Thursday evening when the University of Nebraska at Kearney football team plays its home opener.
UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer expects a raucous crowd for the 7 p.m. game against Central Oklahoma, and he wants to see Loper fans maintain that energy throughout the season.
To give them a boost, UNK is introducing a new tailgating event that will improve the game day atmosphere.
Loper Fan Fest, which begins two hours before each home football game, uses free food, live music and traditional tailgate activities to get students, alumni and community members fired up before they cheer on the team in blue and gold.
“It’s all about the fan experience,” Bauer said. “By generating more excitement and creating a new tradition, I think we’ll see more people attend the games.”
Located on the southwest side of Cope Stadium, Loper Fan Fest will increase the size of the Loperville tailgate area, extending it into the parking lot. Inside the fence, fans can purchase beverages, including alcohol for those 21 and older, and there will be two large UNK tents and plenty of seating to keep people comfortable.
Local band Blackberry Winter is performing before each game, Lana Greene of KRVN Radio will be on hand as the “Fan Fest announcer” and business sponsors are giving away free hot dogs ahead of the first four home games. On homecoming – the Oct. 5 game against Northeastern State – the UNK Alumni Association is hosting its “Brews and Brats Tailgate” in Loperville.
UNK will continue to allow tailgating in other areas of the parking lot west of Cope Stadium.
“There’s going to be a lot of energy out there,” Bauer said. “It will be a great time.”
Another change for the 2019 season, also part of Loper Fan Fest, moves the student tailgate area, now known as “The Range,” to the west side of Mantor and Randall residence halls.
The student section, now called “The Herd,” will hang out on The Range, where sponsor Raising Cane’s will provide free food before all six home games.
“I know the students will be there in full force, ready to eat some chicken fingers,” Bauer said.
The Range will also feature a different tailgate game each week – cornhole, Spikeball, ladder ball, etc. – and students will earn raffle tickets by participating in tournaments. During a UNK home basketball game, one winning ticket will be drawn for a 60-inch, high-definition LG television donated by Russell’s Appliance and Electronics.
A game ticket or pass is required to enter The Range or Loperville. Both areas will close at kickoff, with alcohol sales also ending at that time.
“That’s the standard protocol at all MIAA schools,” Bauer said of the revised alcohol policy. “Our focus once the game starts is our football team and cheering them on.”
UNK fans can get those vocal chords warmed up 20 minutes before kickoff, when the “Royal March” proceeds past both tailgate areas. Led by “King” Louie the Loper, UNK’s Pride of the Plains Marching Band and the cheer and dance teams, this new tradition gives fans a chance to support members of the football team as they enter Cope Stadium.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Bauer said. “We’re really changing the experience for our fans, alumni and students.”
In addition to the improved pregame festivities, UNK will continue to provide a family fun zone in the south end zone with activities from RockIT Event Pros during each home game.
UNK FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
The UNK football team plays its home opener 7 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 12) against Central Oklahoma at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium.
It’s also the annual Faculty/Staff Appreciation Game, with all UNK faculty and staff receiving free entry by showing their university-issued ID card. A fireworks show will follow the contest.
Here are the dates and times for the other five UNK home games:
7 p.m. Sept. 28 – Pittsburg State (Family Night)
2 p.m. Oct. 5 – Northeastern State (Homecoming)
2 p.m. Oct. 19 – Northwest Missouri State
Noon Nov. 2 – Central Missouri
Noon Nov. 16 – Washburn