SALT LAKE CITY — It seems like college football games often go hand in hand with drinking alcohol. But that can be a destructive option for some students. Now, there is a unique alternative for sober fans of the University of Utah Utes.
It's a few hours before the Utes take on the Washington Huskies, and the scene at Utah's tailgate island is typical. There are fans decked out in red hats, shirts and even beards. There's a lively game of ladder golf underway, and hamburgers are grilling on the barbecue pit.
Tailgate party hostess Jessica Cowan greets fans as they arrive, saying, "Get some food and mingle. I'm so glad you came."
The only difference at this party is the cans are filled with soda and energy drinks and the bottles with water. These students, alumni and friends all came out to support Recover at the U.'s first-ever Sober Tailgate Party.
"That is what is the best part of all of this is that you can have a college experience, the university experience … sober," says fan Melissa Welsh.
U. student Nathan Mullen heartily agrees. "Here we can have a lot more fun. I feel like it's a lot more fun being sober."
Mullen, who is decked out in a glittery red beard for this gathering, knows what it's like to get caught up in the college party scene, especially on game days. "One guy is like, 'Oh, you have a great beard … want a beer?' And, you know it's not that appealing to me anymore."
The traditional tailgate isn't as tempting since Mullen discovered Recover at the U, an organization for students in recovery from addictions.
Cowan, the founder and president of the recovery group, knows firsthand what it's like to battle back from addictions. "I look back at who, who that person was, and I don't even recognize that person anymore."
Student leaders of Recover at the U know alcohol and drug addiction has been growing at epidemic proportions on college campuses. But so has the demand for recovery programs. Organizers meet regularly to make sure they're reaching out to that population to show them how to succeed in school and stay sober.
Jason Castillo is the faculty adviser for Recover at the U. He says the organization has already created "peer support groups and self-help groups. So, they've done a lot of work in a really short period of time."
Cowan strongly believes "it's important in recovery to have goals and to accomplish them and continue to keep going."
The goals for leaders of Recover at the U are to help students finish their higher education while fully experiencing college life.
Sober tailgater Brett Fabert says, "I used to love tailgating when I drank." But these days he prefers to have fun without sacrificing his sanity or sobriety.
"We show that you can have fun, you can have fun, you can get an education, you can stay sober, you can do it all," says Welsh.
Fabert has a prediction for the rise of sober tailgating in Utah. "It's going to spread, it's going to spread bigger and bigger every year."
And, just like the yellow balloons of recovery flying high over the Sober Tailgate tent, Cowan feels like this event is ready to soar. "It's amazing, I'm really happy about it."
In fact, the first Sober Tailgate was so successful that students decided to hold one more this season. It will happen on the tailgate island just east of the stadium a couple of hours before the U.'s final home game against the Oregon Ducks. That game is on Saturday, Nov. 19, with a kick-off time yet to be announced.