For football-loving students, ‘Mocktailgate’ will offer all the fun, none of the hangover

September 16, 2019 By Doug Erickson
Photo of a cheerleader with the UW Spirit Squad running a large W flag across the field during a season-opening, night football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin–Madison on Aug. 31, 2018.

The UW Spirit Squad performs at the 2018 football home opener at Camp Randall. Photo: Jeff Miller

Students who want to get their Badger spirit on this weekend but not be around alcohol have another option: a “Mocktailgate” on Library Mall.

The student-sponsored event takes its name from “mocktails” — cocktails without liquor. The event’s tagline: “All the fun, none of the hangover.”

The event will begin at 9 a.m. and run until the 11 a.m. kickoff of the Badger home game against the University of Michigan. It is sponsored by Live Free, a student group that supports those in recovery and works to reduce high-risk drinking on campus.

Photo: Portrait of Kierin Barnett

Kierin Barnett

“The alcohol culture on this campus can be a little brazen at times, and that can be alienating and isolating to people who don’t fit that tradition,” says Kierin Barnett, a UW–Madison junior from Waukesha, Wisconsin, who co-chaired Live Free last year and remains involved. “We want to provide an opportunity to bring those people together so that they can find each other.”

UW–Madison students who don’t drink have a lot of company. This semester, one in four first-year students told the university in a survey that they abstain from alcohol.

“That’s thousands of students,” says Jenny Damask, a substance abuse prevention specialist with University Health Services, “and they are part of a growing national movement. We’re seeing more and more students choosing to be substance-free.”

Live Free, founded in 2014, plans to make the tailgate an annual event. Its first tailgate last year drew about 170 attendees. This year, there will be food, music, lawn games, raffle prizes and a giant inflatable obstacle course. Information about Live Free and other related resources will be available.

“We hope the event can offer a space for students who want to enjoy football and be a part of the Badger spirit but don’t want to feel pressure to consume alcohol,” says Maddie Matijevich, a senior from Westfield, Wisconsin, and vice chair of Live Free.

Matijevich, who transferred to UW–Madison last year from a smaller college, says she once succumbed to that pressure.

“I’m an example of what can happen,” she says. “My drinking started in high school, then accelerated in college. When it began to affect how I was doing in school, I decided I didn’t want that kind of lifestyle for myself. I’ve now been in recovery for almost two years.”

Photo: Portrait of Maddie Matijevich

Maddie Matijevich

Live Free has been a big part of her recovery and given her a strong sense of belonging on campus, she says. Every week, the organization offers a meditation session (Mondays), a “Rainbow Recovery” gathering for LGBTQ students (Wednesdays) and an “All Recovery” meeting for anyone in or seeking recovery from substance use or other addictive behaviors (Thursdays). Details can be found on the group’s website.

Matijevich says she’s on the right path now. Saturday, that path will take her to Mocktailgate, her first-ever UW–Madison tailgate.

“I had avoided them before, because it can be really triggering for someone like myself to be around alcohol,” she says. “So I’m really looking forward to this. I’m going to feel like a true Badger.”