Maryville athletic teams are well fed, especially when they are about to leave on a road trip. A great organization of parents, mostly mothers, put out very tasty meals and sack lunches. I know the athletes and coaches really appreciate those meals.
I had a Sunday school teacher who didn’t like evangelists very much. She thought they were big bags of wind. She had the three “S’s” that were crucial in leading followers down the path of Christianity. She promoted soup, soap and salvation. My Sunday school teacher thought food and cleanliness would open up the unbeliever’s eyes before being lectured with fire and brimstone.
I took a lesson from my Sunday school teacher when I went to recruit athletes. It also was a great tool to get my athletes to play hard for me. I always tried to feed them well and drove my athletic director nuts with all the new uniform requests. Then I would preach a little basketball to them.
To impress my top recruits, I would invite them to campus for Family Weekend. I would have an early lunch on Saturday at my house for the players, their parents, my top recruits and their parents. I would come up with a main dish and asked the parents to bring something for a great buffet-type meal. The meal was followed by the football game.
Some parents went all out. Those that really wanted their daughters to be in good standing with the coach, would make extra and not take it home with them. Back in the early 2000’s, Katie Scherer’s mother would make the sweetest, sweet corn I ever tasted. We even ate pre-game meals at her home before games with Central Missouri. I always attacked the sweet corn first.
I had twin post players, Candace and Alexis Boeh, during my final years at Northwest. Their mother made this unbelievable tasty salad. I even got the recipe, which didn’t hurt their playing time at all.
Over the years, there were many memorable pre-game meals. In 1988, my Doane College team qualified as one of 16 women’s teams sent to Kansas City for the NAIA National Tournament. In our first game, we upset the number two team in the nation.
We were playing in the Elite 8 at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City. I wanted to do something special for the team. We played at 3 pm and the pregame meal was scheduled for 11 am. I had heard Jimmy Valvano, the famous North Carolina State coach, brag about this famous Italian restaurant during a coaching clinic.
The problem was it was St. Patrick’s Day and the parade would go through downtown just as we needed to eat. I called the restaurant, but they told me they wouldn’t open until after the parade. Then I told one of the biggest lies of my coaching career.
I asked for the manager. I told him I was a personal friend of Coach Valvano. I said Jimmy told me to call that manager personally when I wanted to eat at the restaurant. The manager busted me. He knew it was a lie, but he proclaimed it one of the best lies he had heard. For a reward, he’d open the restaurant for my team, but we only had the choice of spaghetti or lasagna.
I jumped at the chance. The restaurant was beyond cool. There were pictures of presidents, gangsters and famous coaches who had eaten at the restaurant. Sadly, it didn’t help Doane College that day. We were knocked out of the national tournament, but we had a great story to tell.
Not all pregame meal stories have such a happy ending. While at Doane College, I sent our junior varsity team to compete in a tournament at Johnson County. My junior varsity team didn’t get high price meals, so I ordered sack lunches for their pregame meal.
About half way to Kansas City, the team dug into their sack lunches. The sandwiches were frozen solid. My assistant coach had left the sack lunches in the van the night before they left. It was a very cold night, freezer cold. They splurged with a pregame meal at McDonald’s drive-through and they won their game.
There is little doubt the greatest experience for my team came during a road trip on two Thanksgiving nights. At Doane College, we drove two vans for 20 hours, over the Continental Divide, to play a three game classic in Butte, Montana.
To make the trip more bearable, I would spend Thanksgiving night in the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where the pool temperature was always above 95 degrees. The snow could be flying, but my players were the first to the water slide.
On our first trip to the Big Sky State, I called around for the best Thanksgiving meal in Butte. After several phone calls, someone suggested I call Copper King Bed and Breakfast.
The woman who answered told me she didn’t have any reservations, but she would call the chef and have a special Thanksgiving meal for our team. It turned out to be very special meal.
The woman I had spoken with was a senior and a very unusual person. She took a bunch of fast food junkies and fed them five courses over a two-hour period. Not a single person complained except for bloated stomachs after a dessert of homemade pumpkin pie and real whipped cream.
She didn’t just usher us out of the house, but gave us a tour of the 100-year old mansion. She proudly showed off the twenty-some decorated Christmas trees throughout the mansion. It was something the players and I will never forget.
Three years later, we made a return trip. Of course, I called the Cooper King Mansion for a repeat of that fantastic meal. I could tell a younger woman answered and she turned down my request. Then as an after-thought, she asked me if I was calling for that Nebraska basketball team that had eaten there three years earlier.
After assuring the women we were one and the same, she told me sadly her mother had recently passed away from cancer. That was the woman who had prepared that special Thanksgiving meal. The daughter also told me her mother never stopped talking about that meal. Apparently, it was a special time for her mother, too.
The daughter now ran the Cooper King Mansion. She told me her family was gathering at the mansion for a Thanksgiving meal in honor of her mother. She invited my team to be part of the feast. We ate in one dining room while the family was in another dining room. They gave us first servings of the home-made meal.
It was an emotional night for her family. It was an emotional night for my coaches and me. Sometimes sports and food make memories you never forget.