When the Ashland University men's basketball team and cheerleading squad goes to downtown Ashland tonight (Oct. 24) at 6 p.m. for Ashland Main Street's Costume Capers Halloween event, the Eagles will be carrying on a tradition that started when AU head coach John Ellenwood came to campus for his first season in 2009.
The idea was to have children and families in the community come to campus – Jack Miller Stadium the first year and Kates Gymnasium and Redwood Hall in later years – to start their trick-or-treating a little early.
It was Ellenwood's first year as a head coach at AU and he was looking for a way for his team to branch out into the Ashland community.
"I was watching a basketball video by (legendary former coach at Northern State) Don Meyer, just about X's and O's, and out f nowhere he says if you don't have a Santa event at Christmas time, you're not doing it right," said Ellenwood. "I just thought, well, Halloween is coming up here. We should do something for Halloween."
So that first year, the men's basketball team, with the help of former athletic director Bill Goldring and then-sports information director and now athletic director Al King, invited kids and families from the community to Jack Miller Stadium to start their trick-or-treating a little early, get candy and play some carnival-type games with the AU players. The event was dubbed Tuffy's Trick or Treat.
"We could have something right here on campus and they can start filling their bags up before they go door-to-door for trick-or-treating," said Ellenwood.
The only problem was the weather.
"It was cold and football practice was going on," said Ellenwood. "We said, we need to get this inside."
So for the next several years, the event was moved to Kates Gymnasium, and when that wasn't available, Redwood Hall. The event grew to include other teams in the athletic department. The attendees grew as well. Just a couple years in, Tuffy's Trick or Treat was drawing 300-400 kids, and sometimes more.
Just last year, the athletic department moved the event and joined up with Costume Capers, an annual Halloween celebration held by Ashland Main Street that includes the downtown businesses passing out treats to costume-clad kids.
"I'd always take my kids down to the Costume Capers and there were so many people down there," said Ellenwood. "Now you look downtown and there's an Ashland University building, so we thought maybe we could move it there.
"It's been a hit, because so many kids show up and it's so visible for us. It's great to interact with the community and it's right before basketball season."
The players get a kick out of the experience as well.
"They love seeing the little guys and girls coming up in their costumes," Ellenwood said. "I think it's fun for the kids to get to know our guys. In the past, our guys would dress in costume for it, but they didn't know who our guys were, so our players wear jerseys now. It helps put a name to a face with our program."
The team and the cheerleaders will be downtown on Tuesday night in front of AU's Founders School to Continuing Education at 121 W. Main St. to play games, sign autographs and hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters.
"The first time you do this stuff, you wonder if it's going to be a success or a dud," Ellenwood said. "This is one of those things that's been great for our players and great for the community. I like seeing when those two things come together. It's a lot of fun."