Dan Lopez prepares to take another stack of hot dogs off the grill Friday night at the Tiger Tailgate at Ontario High School. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
ONTARIO – You could smell the hamburgers from the city street.
The odor, though, didn’t hit full force until about halfway across the parking lot sandwiched between the Ontario High School football field and the school.
The source of the smells Friday night sat at the end of the parking lot, behind a row of cars and from under two canopies emblazoned with the Tiger logo.
Dan Lopez stood before a large gleaming metal barbecue, his head tilted at an angle and sweat beaded like raindrops on his forehead.
“This is what it’s all about,” Lopez said with a grin as he chucked another stack of hamburgers into an aluminum container at a nearby table.
There wasn’t a big crowd yet, but Lopez warned “they’ll be coming” as he opened a package of long hot dogs and slapped them on the barbecue.
Lopez was right.
They did come.
People in groups or alone arrived at the unofficial Tiger Tailgating event. Kids tagged along and Tiger faithful grabbed plates and piled them with salads and burgers and hotdogs and chips.
It didn’t quite feel like fall but it did feel like a community picnic.
This little-known tradition was created years ago and thrives.
“It’s open to everyone,” said Dan Lopez’s wife Kim as she peered out over the asphalt and watched as a knot of fans filtered into the parking lot.
As Kim Lopez chatted about the tailgating tradition, she was accompanied by the occasional referee whistle from the nearby football field. Junior varsity squads from Mazama High School and Ontario were playing ahead of the varsity event.
The tailgate offers free food at every Tiger home game and, Lopez said, started years ago by Ontario resident Joanie Delgado.
“Then she handed it over to me a few years ago,” said Lopez.
Lopez noted the tailgate party isn’t her doing alone.
“There is a core of about 10 football moms. This is a way we get to know the kids,” said Lopez.
It is also popular. Within 45 minutes before the varsity game kicked off, a crowd had gathered. They chatted as they ate or grabbed cold sodas from two coolers.
“Tailgating is part of football,” said Lopez.
The tailgate party is sponsored by the Lopez family and the Ontario Friends of Football.
Lopez said the tailgate party helps bring the corps of Tiger fans together and shows support for the players.
“The kids see this and know their parents are here to cheer them on,” said Lopez. Diana Gillum, one of the football moms, said the tailgate party is something the community enjoys.
“It is a way to get people together and get them pumped up. This is no joke. This is something that has really grown,” said Gillum.
Gillum said while the food is free “we would like people to bring something if they can.”
“But if they don’t, they don’t,” added Lopez.
As the varsity game time neared, junior varsity players wandered in to eat.
“You get to know these kids and you can’t help but love them,” said Lopez.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.