Bucknell bison steaks, Villanova wild catfish and Lafayette turkeys. These are just a few examples of the opponent-inspired dishes that the Kings of Tailgates serve at their pregame festivities.
The Kings of Tailgates are three men from the Lehigh graduating class of 1974 — Dan Mulholland, his twin brother Bob Mulholland and their friend Bob Gustafson.
When friend and classmate Roger McFillan died on his 50th birthday in 2002, the three alumni decided they wanted to “do something that would permit his name to endure,” Dan Mulholland said.
Thus, the Kings of Tailgates were created to host a tailgate at every home and Lehigh-Lafayette football game with hopes of raising money for the Lehigh football program under McFillin’s name.
“It’s big what they do there,” partnership representative Roseann Corsi said. “It’s amazing, people put their heart and their soul into everything they do here, that’s the good thing about it.”
And while the football game tailgates organized by the Kings of Tailgates are events independent of the Lehigh Athletics department, they are the perfect example of what the Lehigh Athletics Partnership aims to achieve when connecting with former players and alumni.
The mission of the Lehigh Athletics Partnership is “to provide a framework and support system that will enable our former student-athletes to remain connected to their Lehigh sports program, and all who participated in it, in a manner that’s fun and impactful for the sport they played,” according to its website.
Bill Griffin, the associate director of athletics for external relations and athletics advancement, said the Lehigh Athletics Partnership puts an emphasis on staying connected or reconnecting with alumni and making them feel like they are “forever family” before putting an emphasis on donating.
This family feeling between the athletics department and alumni is created by the ongoing events the Lehigh Athletics Partnership and its alumni volunteers organize.
Many of these events are centered around bringing alumni back to Lehigh for games of the sport they played, but have also recently included traveling to New York City to watch C.J. McCollum, ’13, and the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Brooklyn Nets.
“If we want to say that we’re family, we have to act like family,” Griffin said. “Let’s treat these people like they’re family, not like they’re suddenly outsiders.”
Griffin said he hopes that if these good relationships with alumni continue, they will be willing to support the athletics department financially, if they are able to.
The Lehigh Athletics Partnership covers all Division I Lehigh sports programs, and within the past eight years, the athletics department has added 18 partnerships, which are specific to each sport. These sport-specific partnerships have only increased the feeling of family among alumni, as well as the amount of alumni contributions.
Each individual partnership has alumni volunteers that coordinate with the partnership representatives to plan events and communicate with the other alumni.
Griffin said these partnerships were inspired by the regional alumni clubs supported by the Lehigh University Alumni Association. He wanted former athletes to be able to give back to and feel connected to their former sports so that “they can always have an impact on the program.”
Dan Mulholland, who played football as a Lehigh student, is an example of a former athlete interested in giving back to his specific program because of his positive experience.
“Football made me what I am, and I want to make football what it should be,” he said. “I feel very passionately about Lehigh football and what it’s been able to do for me.”
Dan Mulholland estimates the Kings of Tailgates have been able to raise close to $125,000 for Lehigh football in the last 14 years.
Since creating the 18 sport-specific partnerships, the “dollars raised for annual operating support” has increased by approximately $1 million, with over $2.2 million raised in just the 2016 fiscal year.
Dan Mulholland and McFillan were teammates during their time at Lehigh, another contributing factor to Dan Mulholland’s emphasis on giving back to football. Griffin said that often when a former Lehigh athlete passes away, his or her former teammates will come together to give back in a way that memorializes that former teammate.
In 2011, former member of the track and field team and current decathlon record holder Ken Jones passed away after suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Both his former teammates and Chi Psi brothers wanted to contribute to Lehigh Athletics in his honor, and Griffin had the perfect idea.
He told Jones’ friends that although they kept track of the team records, there was no record board in Rauch Fieldhouse to present them. The gift was just right for the friends’ price range.
“The entire wall is the (Ken) Jones Wall of Champions with all of the record holders, and he’s still on it,” Griffin said. “Then we did a plaque on the wall that tells the Kenny Jones story.”
Even before becoming one of the Kings of Tailgates, Dan Mulholland had been a consistent donor to Lehigh University and Lehigh Athletics. He said this began immediately after graduation through small yearly contributions given through the class gift.
Corsi said that similarly, the department is working to instill habits of giving back in current student athletes through a fairly new event called March Mania.
March Mania is a week selected in March in which the Lehigh Athletic Partnership encourages alumni to make their donations, as opposed to waiting until May or June, Corsi said. In addition, the partnership reaches out to the current teams to give back to their program, in hopes of having 100 percent participation.
“That gives them the routine of giving back, and if they don’t want to give back to athletics or their sport, they can give back to the university,” Corsi said.
The Lehigh Athletics Partnership has officially hired a full-time team, as of this school year, to further increase its dedication to each individual partnership. Each representative is assigned his or her own group of three to five sports to further better the alumni relations and contributions.
“Our goal is not only to reach our goal, but exceed our goal,” Corsi said. “We did that last year, and hopefully we can do that again this year with extra hands in there.”