COLUMBIA — Though Sedalia is almost 70 miles away, the state fair atmosphere found its way to the MU campus Wednesday night at the Department of Student Life's Midnight BBQ.
New and returning students filled Rollins Street during the first of Student Life's Fall Welcome 2011 series of events. The BBQ event capped the first day on campus for many students, who gathered to eat, play games and get free goodies from various sponsors.
Kathy Murray, assistant director of campus activities at MU, said the barbecue has grown since first being held more than 10 years ago.
“The first year, we had 500 people. It’s grown to thousands,” Murray said.
Many of those thousands found their way to the funnel cake tent, where Mitzi and Bruce Swope of Funnel Cake Crossing served up more than 500 of the carnival favorite to a line that stretched a half a block long.
After 12 years of toiling over hot oil and batter, Bruce Swope said he no longer has a taste for funnel cakes. “I really do like them, but you can only take so much of anything,” Bruce said, before launching into an extended description of his favorite toppings.
Swope began making funnel cakes after working 38 years in construction. “When a guy retires, he has to do something,” he said, as he mixed a bucket of funnel cake batter with a power drill designed for stirring paint.
Hoss’s Market provided the main course for the evening, 600 pounds of pulled pork and beef brisket, along with 840 pounds of potato salad and baked beans.
“We’ve been smoking and pulling pork for the last three days,” said Trish Koetting, co-owner of Hoss’s Market.
The line outside the barbecue tent and the absence of pulled pork only one hour after serving showed that the students were there to eat, not just to mingle.
The Mizzou Student Veterans Association also grilled 2,000 hot dogs and 75 vegetarian dogs for the event. John Picray, an MU senior who finished his service in the U.S. Navy in 2009, said the group started grilling at about 7:30 p.m.
“At 10 o’clock, once we start serving food, it’s gonna get a little crazy,” Picray said.
Amanda Gastler, MU Speakers Committee chairwoman and one of the organizers for the barbecue, said the activities offered have increased along with student interest.
One of the new attractions Wednesday night was “Words with Tigers,” a live variation on the popular web-based game “Words with Friends.” More than 700 t-shirts were printed with a single letter on the front. The first students to assemble and form a “gold word” that appeared on a screen earned prizes.
Students were also free to form their own appropriate words to enter a drawing for prizes. Creative examples included “POISE” and “RATED R.”
The Missouri Students Association said it was pleased with student response and intend to repeat the game next year with more shirts.
Another popular attraction was the strong man game. Several hopefuls stepped up with mallets to test their might.
Peter Kampschroeder, an MU freshman from Austin, Texas, was dismayed with his performance.
“Gravity is a jerk,” Kampschroeder said after a failed attempt to ring the bell.
Tiger’s Lair, the official student cheering section for the Missouri Tigers, sponsored an inflatable obstacle course. Students signed a waiver before entering the attraction. Harrison McLean, an MU sophomore wearing a referee top and a foam tiger paw on each hand, monitored the course.
“Everyone’s been pretty tame,” McLean said of the students entering the inflatable castle.
McLean’s statement seemed to be indicative of the entire atmosphere at the Midnight BBQ. Despite the large crowd, which the MSA estimated at between 10,000 and 13,000 students, some of the police officers at the event still found time to enjoy the Swopes’ funnel cakes.
For many incoming freshmen, the Midnight BBQ was the first taste of life at MU. The Department of Student Life has more events planned as part of its Fall Welcome 2011 program. Other activities include outdoor movies throughout the week, a concert by Jason Derulo on Saturday and an all-campus pizza party on Sunday.