On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, sounds of sledgehammers pierce the air on the Boulevard. Eli Aguilar and his crew are hard at work setting up the white tents for the homecoming game this weekend.
These are the guys who set up the tents and tables for the tailgate party on the Boulevard before home games. And when it’s all over, they’re the ones who pick up the pieces.
“It’s hard work, but we get the job done,” Aguilar said.
The Mustangs were taking on James Madison University for the homecoming football game the week the crew was at work. Because it’s homecoming, more people will attend this Boulevard and football game than others.
Students notice the white tents that magically appear and disappear for each Boulevard, but what goes into the process? M&M Special Events Company is in charge of all SMU events that require white tents, dining tables, chairs and utensils. The crew usually starts working on Boulevard events on Monday and often don’t finish breaking down the structures until the following Sunday or Monday. Sometimes they’ll leave some tents intact if there is another home game the next week.
Setting up and taking down the Boulevard is a huge undertaking. And it’s expensive.
When Melissa Mitrovich-Wong, a sophomore, was asked to estimate what it costs to put the party on, she estimated around $15,000. When Nate Williams, the project manager for M&M Company, heard that figure he laughed and said the actual cost is $100,000.
The Boulevard is a uniquely SMU event. The Mustang band plays at every tailgating party. For the homecoming game, the band marched down Bishop Boulevard in a parade filled with elaborate floats.
The tents, which are rented by fraternities, alumnae and student groups, offer food and alcohol, and games like corn hole. According to the SMU website, tent reservations are made with M&M directly. However, there are strict guidelines to follow when renting. SMU also provides a preferred catering list on their website.
Sitting in a white Ford pickup by McFarlin Auditorium on homecoming day, Williams and Aguilar carefully keep an eye on the white tents they set up a couple days before. When things go south on the Boulevard, they are the guys who come to the rescue. Keeping an eye on the tents is an important part of their job. In case anything does go wrong, Williams and Aguilar are a couple yards away to fix problems that arise.
Problems do arise, and these guys have seen them all.
Drunken SMU students getting arrested. Stolen tents. People running into metal poles. SMU’s pristine grassy turf overrun by heavy trucks.
Aguilar’s crew who sets up and takes down the famous white tents is a fun, hard-working group who describes tent building as more of an art form rather than a job. Williams and Aguilar receive new temp workers each day. They say sometimes it can be challenging teaching new guys the job, but it’s very rewarding in the end.
“We spend more time with each other than at home,” Aguilar said.
Setting up the Boulevard is a huge task on it’s own, but cleaning up is an entirely different mess.
Following the Boulevard tailgate party, SMU grounds workers pick up the trash left behind by students, alumnae and fans. Fans’ main priority on the Boulevard is to have a great time, not worry about the trash left for SMU grounds workers after the party. The sounds of crushing beer cans and drunken fraternity men proudly yelling after shot-gunning beers is common.
Jared Evans, a former groundskeeper for SMU, says the main quad is totally cleared of trash by kickoff. Some people stay to party while the game is ongoing, so a crew of eight to 12 workers may not clean up the rest of the mess until later that day or evening.
“The Sunday afterwards a team of four comes by and gives the campus a once over and removes any remaining cans,” says Evans.
The cleaning of empty beer cans and trash inside of fraternity tents is done by a select group of members from each fraternity. This helps the SMU grounds crew immensely. Thomas Ferguson, a Boulevard Chair for Phi Delta Theta says cleaning up takes less time than setting up as long as everyone works together.
“To remove our belongings and pick up the trash, as a team effort, usually doesn’t take more than thirty minutes,” Ferguson said.
With the last sips of beer escaping from the fans’ cans, everyone realizes the Boulevard is coming to a close. SMU facility workers begin the long clean up process, sticking their handheld grabbers into pieces of trash left on the grass.
Later, Aguilar and his crew will take down every white tent if there is not a Boulevard the following weekend. They start the disassemble process a couple of days after the party, depending on what day the Boulevard lands on.
The crew hammers the sides of the stakes with sledgehammers to loosen them. When the stakes have been removed, the white tents float down to the green grass once again.