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Drizzle no match for SRU fraternity alumni tailgate

Chris Wolford, right, of Slippery Rock, poses with a fellow member of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity at the Slippery Rock University Alumni Association Tailgate on Saturday. Wolford, who graduated from SRU in 1993, was one of thousands of alumni who celebrated homecoming weekend. Submitted Photo.

SLIPPERY ROCK — Grills were smoking, music was blaring, cornhole bags were flying, and either beer or hard seltzer were flowing, depending on the year participants graduated from Slippery Rock University.

The school’s 2023 Homecoming Alumni Association Tailgate was held in the Blaise Scarnati Marching Band Field and parking lots before The Rock played California University of Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon.

The various fraternities that set up an area to gather paid little attention to the chilly, drizzly precipitation during first part of the tailgating event.

Instead, fraternity brothers and their wives and friends laughed and reminisced about their days studying — and more — at SRU.

Many frat brothers wore clothing, hats or jackets emblazoned with their fraternity, and one group, Theta Chi, even displayed an original 1987 hoodie from Straub’s Beer Distributor in Slippery Rock.

Jeff Bell, who graduated from SRU with his wife, Lauri, in 1988, created the designs on the front and back of the historical hoodie.

The front displays a globe with the former Theta Chi house across from Old Main, which is now an apartment building.

The back includes an astronaut, beer-keg rocket and a beer mug, among other depictions.

“Because why not?” said Jeff.

The Bells, who have traveled from Maryland to attend the annual SRU homecoming for 15 years, now bring their son, Erik, who pledged Theta Chi at East Stroudsburg University before transferring his membership to his own alma mater, Towson University near Baltimore.

But Erik said he was not pressured by his parents to pledge to their favorite fraternity.

“Dad said ‘I don’t care what fraternity you join, but go where your friends are,’” he recalled.

The younger Bell said the majority of guys in his dorm were pledging to Theta Chi, so he did too.

“It just so happened I joined,” Erik said.

One day, Jeff gave his son a box and told him not to open it until the night of his Theta Chi initiation.

“So on initiation night, I opened the box, and there was a wooden mug with a rope handle with ‘Theta Chi’ branded into the mug,” Erik said. “I thought it was pretty cool until I read the note inside that said ‘This is the mug I drank out of on my initiation night.’”

Jeff also gave his son a Theta Chi ball cap and tie tack. Erik proudly wore the hat on Saturday as he hung with his parents and their frat friends.

Erik recommends engaging in the Greek life at college, as it bands students together.

“It’s really cool to walk around campus and always say ‘Hi’ to someone,” he said. “That really helped get me through college.”

His mother, who helped her husband and son unload the tents, tables, chairs, chafing dishes and other accessories that made the tailgate party a success, said she always enjoys homecoming weekend at SRU.

“We were college sweethearts,” Lauri Bell said, squeezing Jeff’s hand. “We both love the campus. We loved being at Slippery Rock when we were students here.”

She said returning to campus each year at homecoming is always cathartic.

“It’s a flood of happy memories when we come back,” Lauri said. “You kind of go back in time for a moment and remember all the fun you had.”

Asked why he comes to homecoming each year, and Jeff answers simply.

“What do I get out of it? Seeing my brothers and friends from the past,” he said.

Jack Shivetts, Class of ‘83 and also a Theta Chi, said the fraternity got its Slippery Rock University chapter in 1964.

“We loved our education at Slippery Rock,” Shivetts said of Theta Chis of all ages at the tailgate party. “We all just kind of found each other and we’ll stay together forever.”

He said the group enjoys an annual golf outing, fishing trips, weddings and other events each year.

Greg Riedwood, a Theta Chi from the SRU Class of 1980 who lives in Cranberry Township, said fraternities and sororities are not as popular now as they were in his day.

“I have 80 to 90 friends from up here and my two daughters have eight or nine,” he said.

Theta Chi Mark Hoffman, Class of ‘85, came from Newbury, Ohio to the Slippery Rock University homecoming.

“If it wasn’t for Theta Chi, I probably wouldn’t come to homecoming,” he said. “I have a feeling that out of all the alumni groups, there are more Theta Chi here than any other fraternity.”

Also drinking beer and noshing on tailgate staples on Saturday were alumni of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity.

Patrick Murphy, of Pittsburgh, a Sigma Tau brother from the SRU Class of ‘95, said most of those who huddled under the tent sipping beer and enjoying snacks on Saturday graduated in the 1990s.

He said in previous years, the university did not permit tailgating before the homecoming game, but began allowing it a few years back.

“So, as a group of alumni, we organized one year and came to homecoming,” he said. “We get to see old friends and catch up with people we don’t see very often.”

Chris Wolford, of Slippery Rock, didn’t have far to drive to attend the tailgate party with his Sigma Tau brothers on Saturday.

The SRU Class of ‘93 alum summed up the thoughts of those who whooped it up at the homecoming tailgate party on Saturday when asked his memories of his fraternity activities.

“They’re very blurry,” Wolford said.

Jeff, Erik and Lauri Bell, from left, of Maryland, pose with an original Theta Chi fraternity hoodie Jeff designed in 1987 as a Slippery Rock University student. The family attended the SRU Alumni Association Tailgate on Saturday. Submitted Photo.
The Theta Chi fraternity enjoyed libations and hot foods they prepared for the tailgate party before the Slippery Rock Homecoming football game on Saturday. One Theta Chi alum who attended graduated in 1964. Submitted Photo.

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