In northwest South Dakota, clashes on the football field between rival schools are the main attractions on Friday nights. It is where community members can count on connecting with friends and neighbors. It is also a place where high school sports fans can count on seeing employees from Grand Electric Cooperative cooking up a pre-game meal.
“We see people of all ages at the tailgate parties,” Grand Electric Cooperative Marketing/Tech Specialist Rachel Eggebo said.
The Bison, SD, based cooperative began hosting block parties in the summer months nearly 20 years ago to reach out to the community. In 2009, Grand Electric transitioned to serving up brats, hot dogs, and chips before high school football games to reach families that were busy attending school activities. The co-op says it has been a great way to serve the community and show support for local schools.
“It gives us an opportunity to show our membership that we are there for them. Occasionally, it might be the only time we have to communicate with our busy members,” Eggebo said.
Grand Electric is taking a cautious approach to their tailgate parties this year due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. But, if the players are on the field, the co-op is committed to serving up free food at five different games this fall. Grand Electric will make some modifications to the tailgate parties by packaging the food and making it a ‘grab-and-go’ style event for fans.
Grand Electric is not alone in its efforts to partner with local schools and reach out to the community with fun pre-game events. Butte Electric plans to host a tailgate party before the Belle Fourche and Spearfish game this fall. West River Electric holds a tailgating event before the Wall and New Underwood football game and sponsors a basketball tournament in Union Center every November.
Sioux Valley Energy in Colman is also on the tailgating bandwagon. Sioux Valley started hosting events before football games to help their local schools raise money.
“As school funding becomes tighter, booster clubs - and other school organizations run by parents - serve an important purpose,” Sioux Valley Director of Communications and Government Relations Carrie Vugteveen said. “Sioux Valley Energy feels that supporting these efforts helps the co-op live out its guiding principle of ‘commitment to community.’”
Sioux Valley hosted three tailgate parties in 2019 to raise money for booster clubs in Brandon, Hartford, and Pipestone, MN. Sioux Valley bought all the food and asked for a free-will donation from fans during the meal. The three events raised more than $3,000 combined for the booster clubs.
FEM Electric Association in Ipswich also partners with local schools to raise money during athletic events. FEM Electric donates 60 cases of bottled water to each school district within its service territory every year. The schools can sell the water in their concession stands and keep all the profits. Each water bottle has an electrical safety message printed on the label which translates into a big win for both the school and the co-op.
“We wanted to contribute something to help out the various school programs and at the same time get our safety message out to kids and everyone,” Carol Schaffner with FEM Electric Association said.
Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative in Tyler, MN, hosted a ‘Tailgating with Tesla’ party before the Minneota and Canby football game last fall. The co-op partnered with a local youth group to host the event. The co-op bought all the food and the youth group kept all the proceeds from the tailgate party to help pay for a mission trip. It was an opportunity to raise money for a good cause and for Lyon-Lincoln Electric to showcase its Tesla and talk about the benefits of electric vehicles.
“These events are a win-win for the cooperative and the community,” Lyon-Lincoln Electric Manager of Marketing and External Relations Brian Jeremiason said. “The co-op is able to deliver a message to a targeted audience and visit about other topics that community members may have. The community benefits by having a face-to-face opportunity to visit with their co-op.”
Electric co-op participation in school events is widespread across South Dakota. Northern Electric Cooperative in Bath, Dakota Energy in Huron, Charles Mix Electric in Lake Andes, and Central Electric in Mitchell all participate in local homecoming parades. Lacreek Electric in Martin sponsors a t-shirt toss during basketball and football games. Dakota Energy also hosts ‘co-op night’ during local basketball games. And, Central Electric hosts free popcorn nights at high school basketball and football games to promote electrical safety and give back to the school and community.
So, whether it is a tailgate party, a fundraiser, or a t-shirt toss it is likely that electric co-ops will be supporting their local schools and communities this fall and winter.
“High school sports are wonderful opportunities to reach out to our communities,” Jeremiason said. “Young and old all attend and we can communicate with families as a unit which can be difficult sometimes with the busy lives most families are living.”