Janesville’s Pontiac Convention Center was abuzz as the Tailgate Tour made its entrance to the party, a gathering to benefit the Salvation Army.
In Janesville, as in other communities, the Salvation Army works to make life better for people through family social services, community lunches, transitional housing, youth and adult programs and seasonal assistance.
The Salvation Army is a familiar friend of the Packers through working on several programs in the Green Bay area, so tonight was an opportunity to experience the great work the organization does elsewhere in the state. And, it was an opportunity to reunite with Majors Bob and Ruth Fay, the couple who runs the Janesville chapter who previously ran the Green Bay chapter for nine years.
“I was very pleased with tonight’s event. It was very smooth,” said Fay. “The community was very excited and supportive, and we gained some sponsors we haven’t had before.
“This event will support our ongoing programs, particularly our food pantry, transitional housing and scholarships for our summer camp for youth.”
During the evening’s Q&A, the players helped celebrate an attendee’s birthday, with Ty Montgomery from the stage leading a serenade of “Happy Birthday.” That was a Tailgate Tour first.
“I haven’t done that before,” said Montgomery.
In another Tailgate Tour first, a party attendee had an audition of sorts for singing the national anthem at Lambeau Field.
Mathew Hedgecock, of Janesville, asked how he could sing the anthem at Packers game. Mark Murphy advised him to send in an audition recording and it would be considered, which is typical policy for such inquiries. But, the players suggested he come up on stage and give it a try. He did.
“I leaned over and told Kenny, ‘Watch this guy just kill it,’” Montgomery said.
Hedgecock performed a very solid anthem to the great appreciation of the crowd. A high school wrestling coach who has performed the anthem at multiple meets, including the state championship, he has performed at weddings and funerals.
“I wasn’t planning on asking about Lambeau Field, but when they asked if anyone had any other questions, I decided to give it a try,” he said. “I certainly didn’t expect to sing it here tonight.”
Murphy and the Packers were impressed, but no promises were made.
“If this was American Idol,” said Murphy, “I’d say you’re going through to the next round.”
While many of the night’s fans were from the surrounding area, Tailgate Tour parties do draw fans from far away. Kurt Krier and his family made the drive down from Hudson, Wis., to enjoy the party, his third Tailgate Tour event in the past three years. In fact, Krier had intended to make a football weekend of it and also attend Friday night’s Badgers spring game, but that was cancelled with bad weather in the forecast.
“That’s OK,” he said. “Tonight was a lot of fun.”