Dakota Howard shows off her spirit during a tailgate party before SOU’s football game Saturday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore


There's nothing like a winning season and a sunny fall day to bring fans out for the fun and friendship of a tailgate party next to Southern Oregon University's Raider Stadium.

As they served up hot dogs, potato salad and beer, 50 or so supporters — many of them kin of players, alumni or old Raider gridders from bygone days — relive old stories and talk up the importance of knocking off Montana Western and moving up in the conference rankings.

An active supporter in the Raider Club, 89-year-old Stan Smith smiles as he recalls playing on the 1946 Raider football team, the only undefeated gridders in SOU history.

"We had only 10 of us, all World War II veterans," he says. "I'm the only one still alive. We played on high school fields around the area. Now, we put on the barbecue for the team at the first practice in the fall. It's amazing what winning does to the turnout for tailgating."

Tailgating is virtually a family reunion, say his daughters, Sandy Trott and Dana Tuley.

"It's where we have a good time and get up spirit for Raider Nation," says Tuley, who went to then-Southern Oregon College in the early '60s. "I remember mom taking us to watch dad practice football behind Churchill Hall when I was a toddler. There was no TV or video games back then, so that's what we did."

Relatives of Medford football legend Fred Spiegelberg and star wide receivers, brothers Matt and Ryan Retzlaff, were out in force. Sisters Annie and Joey Spiegelberg, granddaughters of Fred and cousins of Matt and Ryan, sipped suds and talked football lore.

"The whole family makes the trip, and it's good times on campus," said Mike Retzlaff, father of Matt and Ryan.

Griffin Boyd, who also had family on the gridiron, said, "It's the biggest football action you're going to get in Southern Oregon."

"It's fun meeting new people and getting prepared for a good game," said his sister Emily Boyd, as she nursed a mimosa.

Mixing in the same crowd were Emily Howard, daughter of SOU coach Craig Howard, with infant Dakota, granddaughter of Craig.

"They have to win this game to be No. 1 in the Frontier Conference," said Emily. "We want them to stay on track and feel the community supporting them."

Tiffany Howard, the coach's daughter-in-law, said, "We drive five hours from Sacramento for every home game to show the Raiders our support and spirit."

A member of Raider teams in the 1964-66 seasons, Bill White notes he picked off 13 interceptions in one year and went on to coach track-and-field teams in the valley for decades.

"It's great to come back to our fraternity," he says.

SOU Alumni Director Mike Beagle, who played for the Raiders in the early '80s, says he and friends started the tailgating tradition in 1987.

"We would be standing out in the gravel lot, drinking PBR and making hot dogs, and people would come by and ask what we were doing. It's the food, barbecue smoke and meeting new friends. It's just relaxing and fun."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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