It turns out there aren’t many restaurants on Thanksgiving night in Northwest Arkansas.
Because the University of Arkansas student body is on hiatus and it’s a national holiday, most restaurants closed early or never opened. That’s how a handful of Missouri football parents ended up at a Mexican restaurant near Fayetteville, Arkansas, for their Thanksgiving last November.
As their sons prepared for the Tigers’ annual Black Friday game against the Razorbacks at the team hotel, the parents who had traveled there hugged each other. From rearranging family plans to making the most of limited time with their sons, this is what Thanksgiving looks like for Missouri gamers’ families.
“It wasn’t very traditional, but that’s okay,” said Melissa Hawthorne, Daniel Hawthorne’s mother. “It’s a very short time that (our kids) are collegiate athletes, so we’re making it work.”
The players’ parents refer to themselves as the “football family,” and nowhere is that more evident than in the final friends-and-family tailgate of the college football regular season. They call it “Friendsgiving,” where they turn their tailgate into a veritable potluck for families who have adapted vacation plans with their own families to commute to Colombia from across the region.
This year’s Friendsgiving will feature the second Chili Cookoff. Last year, Rachel McKeithen, Jarrin McKeithen’s mother, took first place; followed by Amy Cook, Brady Cook’s mother; and Jennifer Heismeyer, Drake Heismeyer’s mother, who also won People’s Choice. Meanwhile, Melissa Hawthorne joked she could cheat a little and bring gumbo.
“The other parents really become your extended family,” said Jennifer Heismeyer. “You become very close and invested in each other’s lives because you spend a lot of time together.”
Before college football took over their lives, the Mevis family often celebrated Thanksgiving with the family at their old home in Warsaw, Indiana, and spent the following weekend putting up Christmas decorations. Then Tina and Tracy Mevis’ eldest son, Andrew, began his college career at Fordham, and Harrison soon went to Missouri. Since then, their Thanksgivings have been anything but traditional.
In 2020, they spent Thanksgiving with Tina Mevis’ side of the family in Kansas City before commuting to Columbia to watch Harrison Mevis score the game-winning field goal against Arkansas in a 50-48 win. They also spent the final year in Kansas City before heading to Ames, Iowa to watch Andrew Mevis play his final collegiate game for Iowa State, to which he had transferred. They plan to be back in Kansas City this Thursday, once again without Harrison Mevis.
Jennifer Heismeyer and her husband Eric live in St. Charles, just over an hour from Memorial Stadium, but just because they live nearby doesn’t mean they can see their son for Thanksgiving dinner.
Like any offensive lineman, Heismeyer is a big eater, and Thanksgiving is one of his favorite holidays. For Jennifer Heismeyer, a day that used to be full of cooking and meal prep has become easier since her son moved to Missouri. Now she’s celebrating a quieter Thanksgiving with Eric.
“We always say the actual day isn’t that important,” said Jennifer Heismeyer. “It’s about us coming together.”
The Hawthornes, who live in West Monroe, Louisiana, usually choose to celebrate Thanksgiving on another day and have an earlier meal with family in town before making the nine-hour trip to Columbia.
“It’s not about what we do; it’s that we’re going to be together,” said Melissa Hawthorne. “We miss having (Daniel). It’s hard, but we usually get him on a video call for everyone to see.”
MU dismissed students for the Thanksgiving break last Friday, but Missouri players couldn’t go home. They have football responsibilities that included a game against New Mexico State on Saturday and several meetings and practices ahead of this week’s game against Arkansas.
While they don’t get to see their sons for long on Thanksgiving, most parents traveling to the Tigers’ annual Black Friday game make sure their child has a taste of home. Many cook on Tuesday or Wednesday — or collect leftovers from a family feast earlier in the week — and bring the meal to the team hotel in the roughly half-hour window they have with their sons on Thanksgiving night.
Despite the altered plans and messed up family plans that come with it, the Mevises, Heismeyers and Hawthornes are grateful to be able to watch their sons play college football.
“We are very lucky to have Harrison in the position he is in and to be able to support him every game,” said Tina Mevis. “We know it’s not for everyone, so we’re grateful to be able to be a part of it.”
Celebrating Thanksgiving with her sons will have to wait, at least for a few more days — or weeks if the Tigers have a bowl game. However, players are sure to fill up when they return home around Christmas time.
“I don’t really mind having a few years off from cooking,” said Jennifer Heismeyer, “but when Drake comes home, believe me, he’ll make up for it.”
The most important thing for parents is to support their sons in their college football careers, even if it means a few years of “untraditional” Thanksgiving.
Also, when Tracy Mevis chimed in, “There’s always Cyber Monday, right?”