Students and alumni jammed onto the Hillside for football games
For about ten years after Madison Stadium (now Bridgeforth Stadium) was constructed, a phenomenon flourished that often had as many fans watching the game from outside the stadium as from inside.
A group of students and young alumni – often with coolers of beer – flocked to the hillside just beyond the west end of the stadium. They brought blankets and lawn chairs along with their various refreshments. The Hillside Gang was born. It was one big outdoor party, with a football game going on in the background as entertainment.
When it was constructed in 1975, Madison Stadium had a capacity of about 5,200. In 1981, a second set of seats were added to the stadium (then called JMU Stadium) and gave it a total capacity of more than 12,000.
According to alumnus Scott Myer ('85), it was an event like no other to sit out on the Hillside and watch the Dukes in action.
“Some of the best times I had at James Madison were when my friends and I would go to the game and cheer for our football team,” Myer said. “It was always the best way to start off the weekend.”
The Hillside Gang was primarily made up of students and recent alumni – a great combination both for a cheering section and for a good time. The only thing that stood between the fans and the field was a small chain-link fence.
The proximity to the field was one of the many reasons the crowds flocked to the Hillside for every home game. The best seats in the stadium – both for seeing and for partying – were on the Hillside. Myer remembers, “Everyone was so into the game and were so close it was like we were all a part of the game ourselves.”
The crowds covered the entire Hillside and extended down to the railroad tracks that run beside the football stadium. “We would bring lawn furniture and set it up between the tracks,” recalls Andy Perrine ('86).
On more than one occasion, “all of us had to get up and clear the way for a passing train,” said Perrine, now associate vice president for communications and marketing at JMU.
Perrine said the mob on the Hillside resembled a “hobo jungle.”
It was a combination of the players, the fans and the environment itself that made the hill such a popular location. At many games, the Hillside was more packed than the stadium stands.
The Hillside 's popularity led to its demise. While it was a popular location, it also meant there were thousands of fans who weren't inside the stadium to create a big-game atmosphere. Also, there were thousands of fans who were seeing a game without buying tickets. Neither of these factors set well with the JMU administration.
Some trees were planted on the Hillside to make it less attractive as a seating section. A close watch was held on coolers and related party accoutrements.
In the mid-1980s, the Hillside Gang had to abandon the site because temporary seats were added to the end zone side, blocking the view. In addition, the trees quickly took up most of the old seating space.