There is one small football tradition at Ole Miss that often goes unrecognized. Each game day, a group of 10-15 students bail on the tailgating experience of the Grove to sit in the Ole Miss Rebels student section.
This group of students is at the student gate every game early before it opens no matter if its an 11 a.m. kickoff or a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Haley Vassar, a senior at Ole Miss, has been running the gates at Ole Miss with her friends for four seasons.
“The main purpose of getting here is to get the front row of the student section,” she said. “We pay for our student tickets, and we want the best possible seats.
“Gates open two hours prior to kickoff, and we try to arrive here two hours prior to the gates opening. If it is a big game, we will be here earlier than two hours.”
According to Vassar, this season has seen a decline in students that show up for big games to run the gates, unlike previous years.
“The alterations this season to the student section made it nearly impossible for front row, unlike previous seasons, so students didn’t try as much,” said Vassar.
The student section was once half of the south end zone until this season. This season, the bottom portion of the student section had the first 13 rows removed to install chair backs as luxury seats for regular season ticket holders.
It was part of the renovation process that will be completed before the start of next season that will once again alter the student section, moving them to the newly bowled in north end zone.
With the lack of students running the gates, this group of gate runners has remained dedicated to their usual game days.
Catherine Carroon, a senior at Ole Miss, has been running the gates for four seasons. She believes this is a great tradition that should be carried on.
“Everyone goes to the Grove and welcomes the team off the bus and down the Walk of Champions, and that’s it, but where do they go after that – to the stadium,” Carroon said. “With new renovations, this season we sat above the tunnel, and we cheered every player on as they entered the tunnel to go to the locker room to get dressed for the game.”
They believe the players need support during 100 percent of the game, from the time they depart the bus to the time the team steps off the field.
A normal game day for the gate waiters involves getting prepped for the game, loading up their food and beverages in Styrofoam coolers that they dispose of.
Once they get to the gate, it’s like being in the Grove. They drink some drinks, eat some food, and socialize with one another.
When it’s within 30 minutes of the gates opening, they form a line and start getting prepped for the run to the seats. At this time, the group disperses to all three student gates to gain the advantage over others that randomly show up.
Once they signal for the gates to open and the IDs are scanned, the students race up the ramp to get to the student section, running to the bottom and diving across the bleachers to save seats for their friends behind them.
“It will definitely have you winded for air, but we are used to it,” Vassar said. “We have been front row for every home game for all four seasons.”
The front row is special for this group. They do not believe that any other group of students is deserving of the front row seats like they are.
“Students can be so fair weather,” Vassar said. “The team needs support, winning or losing. If it is an early game, and we are blowing out a nobody team, students leave. The team can’t leave, so we don’t leave.”
Once they have their seats, they wait for the Walk of Champions to come through the Vaught and cheer on every player as they enter the tunnel beneath them to go to the locker room.
Once Vaught has been locked and the game has started, these gate waiters watch every single play until the game is over, and they stay far beyond the end of the game.
The student section begins to clear out, but they stay in the front and cheer for every player as they leave the field going back to the locker room whether the game has been a victory or a loss.
“The team still needs support and the congrats after a win, and they also need to know we still love and support them despite a loss,” said Carroon.
These gate waiters are such big fans they looked beyond the normal tradition and culture at Ole Miss and started something that is special to them that they hope will be carried on for future generations to support the Rebel football team.