Students, staff clean up tons of trash after home football games
At 2:30 am on October 1, University of Mississippi junior Jacob Plott was not out celebrating the Ole Miss Rebels‘ big win against the rival Louisiana State University Tigers. He was cleaning up The Grove.
After each home football game, community volunteers join landscape services staff and spend hours picking up trash, forgotten or abandoned items and leftover food. It takes lots of work to make campus beautiful again after a game, said Plott, a biochemistry and psychology major from Birmingham, Alabama.
“When we got out there, there were tents everywhere,” said Plott, who drove to campus at 11 pm.
“All the trash cans were overflowing; there were a good deal knocked over,” he said. “The main problem we had was loose trash on the ground. There were patches where you could not see grass or dirt because of all the trash that was there.”
Fifty-six volunteers from the Baptist Student Union, including Plott, spent more than three hours and went through more than 2,000 trash bags picking up what a rowdy group of “Grovers” left behind – and they couldn’t get it all, he said.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Jeff McManus, director of landscape services. “It’s not literally covered end to end in loose trash because some people do a good job of cleaning up – they take pride and ownership of cleaning their tailgate areas.”
The Baptist Student Union cleans up after five or more games each fall and other groups – the Navy Midshipmen, Boy Scout troops, Oxford High School color guard, Lafayette County School District athletics teams and the North Delta High School softball and baseball teams – help clean up after the rest, McManus said.
“You would be proud to see these young people,” McManus said. “If you watch these groups, your whole disposition about the future will change. They do amazing work and don’t complain.”
For decades, the university has prided itself on being able to celebrate all Saturday afternoon but wake up to a clean Grove on Sunday, McManus said. To accomplish this, however, groups of staff members, students and volunteers spend hours filling trash bags, picking up litter and cables left behind and washing some 2,800 trash cans deployed for each home game.
The university offers several ways to dispose of litter on game days, including a number of 30-foot dumpsters, recycling bins, trash bags, and the ubiquitous red and blue trash cans that dot The Grove and Circle.
The Baptist Student Union became the university’s first group to raise funds by cleaning The Grove in 2005 and uses the money its students earn to help fund mission trips, said Mo Baker, BSU director.
“We made a commitment long ago that this money wouldn’t go into the BSU general fund, but toward our various missions programs instead,” Baker said. “We consider it a one-night mission trip five times a semester to help beautify our campus.”
Although the work may be dirty, students keep their spirits up with games, competitions and comradery.
“We do a scavenger hunt every Grove cleanup and we offer small prizes for the winner of each category,” Hobson said. “It really keeps the morale up, especially when it gets to be 2:30 in the morning.”
Plott and Hobson said they have found cellphones, sunglasses, apparel, broken electronics and an astonishing amount of unopened food.
“One thing that’s always been like a major hit to me when we do Grove clean-up is the amount of leftovers we see,” Hobson said. “There’s always so much food and drink left out. There’s so much food that gets thrown out.
“I’ve always wished there was something we could do about it.”
Cleaning up The Grove is a point of pride for the landscaping services crew, Baker and the fundraisers, but it’s also the responsibility of anyone who loves the campus or tailgates on game day, McManus said.
“We have been entrusted with a great treasure in The Grove, a place other schools wish they had,” McManus said. “We appreciate our fans and especially those that encourage others to take pride in cleaning up.”
Taking care of The Grove is a part of the Ole Miss identity, Baker said.
“One of the things that I’ve learned in the years I’ve been at Ole Miss is that Ole Miss makes a great first impression on outsiders and our campus community, and that’s largely because our landscape crew does such a fantastic job of keeping the grounds,” Baker said. “If we really didn’t do this wholeheartedly or put it off to Monday, not only would it look bad and smell bad, but it would say we don’t care about our campus.
“This creates an expectation and a sense of pride that we take care of our campus.”
To register to help with Grove cleanup, contact McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Clara Turnage