ENTER THE CONTEST: www.facebook.com/yorkdispatch
Friday night football is a tradition stretching far back in American consciousness. We all know the key components: the burly players, the peppy cheerleaders, the brassy band, the roaring crowd.
But from letter jackets and milkshakes at the soda fountain to Vines and gourmet meals in the stands, food has always been as much a part of the experience as huddling in a succession of ever-thickening sweaters, jackets and coats as winter creeps up on the fans.
By the time 7 p.m. rolls around and we're scrunching down the seats to make room for one more friend, the concession stand crew has been hard at work for about six hours.
In Spring Grove Area School District, the job of overseeing the concessions goes to Tess Piety, president of the athletic boosters. Running two stands — home side and visitors side — with a volunteer crew of 10 to 12 people per side keeps her plenty busy.
"Sometimes it can be a little bit hectic and chaotic, but that's part of the fun and fever of Friday night football," she says. "If you hear our fans erupt, it definitely gives you a sense of excitement."
The menu: Like the players on the field watching their win-loss record every year, concession stand crews take pride in upping their game. Folks who remember grabbing popcorn, a hot dog and maybe an ice-chest can of soda or a tiny cup of hot chocolate would be amazed at the offerings these days. You thought juggling the hot dog, the soft pretzel and the soda while navigating the crowd was tough? Bring a tray.
"We do have kind of an extensive menu. We do everything from hot dogs to soft pretzels to sausage sandwiches to hamburgers," Piety says. "We also have a french fry vendor that comes in, which is a local businessman in Spring Grove, and this year we will also be adding Chick-fil-A."
She's not done.
"We're also attempting to add a few new items to our menu," she says. "We've always had pizza, but this year we might be offering some hot soups for those cold fall evenings."
Game nights aren't just excuses to pile up the junk food and snack your way through four quarters of raucous cheering with a gang of friends anymore. The menus are practically home-cooked, four-course meals. There's a reason for that evolution, as the concession stands cater to families with packed schedules.
"I think for some, especially for parents of players that drop their students off at the field late afternoon, early evening, they're not worried about cooking dinner for their families, knowing they can feed them at the concession stand," Piety says. "So I think it's important for us that we can tailor to individual needs, whether you want a snack or to eat something hearty for dinner."
Continuity: The pride in what they're serving — and the knowledge that all of the money generated from concessions goes right back into supporting the athletic programs in the district, with some left over for academic programs like the Link Crew mentoring at the high school — builds a strong core of volunteers who come back year in and year out to hand off your food with a smile. Their off-the-field effort isn't as visible as the performances from the players or the marching band, but it's an indispensable piece of a larger whole.
"We have some volunteers, like Bob Smith, who is an icon in the concession stand, and he has been a coach and a parent and a volunteer for our district for a very long time," Piety says. "I truly think it's the camaraderie that they've built with some of the volunteers over the years, and that they truly enjoy giving back to the community and the excitement of Friday night football under the lights."
The dedication of volunteers, the donations from local businesses, and the hunger of fans for a special treat at the game keep high school concessions fueled season after season, sport after sport.
"We couldn't do it without the support of our entire community," Piety says.
— Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Win prizes for yourself and your school
The York Dispatch is running a contest to celebrate the York-Adams league schools and the hardworking concessions crews with prizes for the top three vote-getters. Visit The York Dispatch on Facebook to vote for your favorite school and — if you want to — share a food-related memory of Friday night football or name your favorite food from the concession stand.
Your vote could win your school a gift certificate for Weis Markets to help stock up on supplies. First place gets $100, second place gets $50 and third place gets $25.
And because we don't want to leave out the community members who help make everything possible, three lucky voters will each receive a $20 gift certificate.
You have two weeks to cast your vote. Try it on your phone from the stands as you bite into that first soft pretzel or sausage sandwich of the season Friday.