As soon as Alex Dixon heard about the idea of “sailgating” at Baylor’s new McLane Stadium, he was on board. And he quickly found out he was far from alone.
The 2009 Baylor graduate and season tickerholder envisioned an armada of all kinds of boats heading down the Brazos River to tailgate and watch the Bears play on their home turf. He created a “Baylor Bearmada” Twitter account last year to promote interest in the idea, and quickly gained 3,500 followers. Now he’s expecting to be joined by dozens of boaters heading to the game against Southern Methodist University on Aug. 31.
“The way I see it, (Baylor officials) have created the setting, and now the fans are going to have to create the tradition,” he said.
Baylor officials say they have no idea how many people will take water transportation to the game, but they’ve been encouraging it since the stadium was announced in 2012. Baylor has set aside a large inlet as a “boat basin” that will start with 16 boat slips for lease, as well as free tie-up points along a retaining wall.
“We first want to see if there’s interest to go beyond 16 slips, and whether people are going to be excited for a couple of games or the full season,” said Nick Joos, Baylor associate athletic director.
Jim Yowell, owner of Yowell’s Boat Yard in Waco, said he already has seen people invest in boats to take them to McLane Stadium. He has sold four large pontoon boats — typically costing more than $50,000 — to out-of-town alumni who plan to use them primarily for the game. He said some alumni are even buying homes far upstream on the Brazos so they will have a headquarters on game weekend.
“It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in sailboating, boatgating, pontoon-gating, whatever you want to call it.
“I’m loving it to death. I’ve been on the Brazos a ton of my life, and finally someone has woken up and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a river in our backyard — let’s do something with it.’ Baylor’s been the driving force.”
Baylor hasn’t yet built or leased its slips, and no prices have been set on them.
One boater who’s interested in the slips is Bill Hollis, a 2004 Baylor graduate who works in Austin as a firefighter. He started boating and swimming on the Brazos when he was a student and is looking forward to all-day tailgating at the new stadium.
“It’s something different and new,” he said. Hollis is planning to meet Dixon on the river to scope out their game plan.
Dixon, who created the Bearmada interest group, said he doesn’t yet have a boat because he has only recently found employment again after a layoff.
“I’m either going to find a boat, buy a boat or rent a boat, but I’ll definitely be out on the Brazos for the opener.”
Dixon expects at least 20 boats for the first game, while park rangers are preparing for about 40.
He said boating is an important part of the game-day experience at a few other universities, including the University of Washington and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In Knoxville, about 200 boaters known as the “Volunteer Navy” line up for game day on the Tennessee River, a much larger river than the Brazos.
Dixon said the Baylor boating tradition will take a while to develop, but he sees a bright future for it.
“Tying up your boat or going to the boat slips, it’s so close you’ll feel like you can touch the stadium,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of interaction with people on the shore and people in the water.”
What he looks forward to the most is the “March of the Bears,” a ceremony in which players and coaches will cross a bridge over the boat basin to get to the game.
“It’s going to be an awesome sight,” he said.