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The Two C's of High School Sports Fandom

by on September 26, 2017 5:00 AM


Schools in the Centre Region have been in session for several weeks and all the outdoor fall field-sports seasons are well underway. This means the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors of local students have had almost a month of watching them play their chosen sport at various playing fields around Happy Valley. Or traveling an hour, or two, or three away to watch them compete.

The result is that many of those parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors have become experts in two very important aspects of the outdoor scholastic sports experience. No, not the rules or referees. They have become experts in the two C’s of scholastic fandom – concessions and comfort.

While hanging around before or after the games and during halftime, we are often talking about the games themselves, but lots of times the conversations turn to the conditions surrounding the game. Which teams and schools have outstanding C’s, and which are just passable. Which have something interesting or different to eat, and which carry the standard fare. Which have facilities that make life as a fan easy and comfortable, and which require a little more tolerance.

In addition, many of the parents themselves have gotten mini courses toward a B.S. degree in hospitality management because the team booster clubs use the concession stands as fundraisers and ask (require?!) the parents to donate their services as counter help. Nothing like working an outside concession stand for a few hours to make one appreciate the efficiency of a fast food restaurant.

High school football, being the most popular sport, always gets the best concessions. In town the State High home games at Memorial Field block off Fraser Street and outside vendors pull up their trailers with all manner of carnival food and flashing lights. The other high schools in the area have permanent structures at their stadiums providing concessions - meaning relief from the elements and access to power, heat and refrigeration -- the four pre-conditions for a quality concession stand.

Even at high school football games though, comfort can be an elusive quality. Bleachers are standard – although the debate between whether metal or wood provides the most comfort is common (I’m a wood person myself). But rest facilities vary greatly in both proximity to the stands and style.

The great thing about football is there is no better sport at creating participation among the student-athletes. With 22 kids on the field at any moment and (often) dedicated offensive and defensive players, it’s easy to get 40-plus players from one team onto the field during the course of a game. And that, after all, is why people are in the stands – to see their daughter/son/friend/neighbor play. No other sport provides that many opportunities for kids to get onto the playing field and into a game.

But what about the other sports? What about the fans of the other outdoor fall field sports – specifically soccer and field hockey? What conditions do they have to deal with? What do the fans of these secondary sports get to eat and under what conditions is the food served. How comfortable are you while being there?

Let’s talk about concessions first.

Those secondary outdoor fall sports played on fields with permanent concession structures are obviously the gold standard. The Lower Dauphins, Cumberland Valleys and Chambersburgs of the state have the opportunity to provide a great food-eating experience. Doesn’t mean they do, but they have the infrastructure needed to provide a wider variety of options than those using a pop-up tent with propane and no power. Those kinds of situations call for ingenuity.

Which is something you need if you are setting up concessions at Memorial Field downtown. One of the decades-long quirks of school sports in the State College district is the primary playing field with lights – Memorial Field – has no permanent concession stand. So booster clubs have to improvise with pop-up canopies and tables, cooking food in advance and bringing it in pots and containers. This season the Cheerleaders Booster Club has been staffing the State High boys soccer matches and doing an outstanding job improvising great concessions.

Then the food. The trendy concession stand food these days is the walking taco. It's a snack-sized bag of Fritos or Doritos chips that are crushed so the chips break apart, then the bag is cut open across the top and chili or taco meat is spooned inside along with any available taco toppings – lettuce, cheese, and salsa. Stir the contents of the bag with a spoon and eat away. The beauty is that this can generally be prepared no matter how prehistoric the concession stand conditions. One of our fellow parents makes sure to purchase a walking taco at every away game just to determine which team has the best. (The season is only half over, but so far Cedar Cliff is doing well.)

Hot dogs, hot sausages, slices of pre-ordered pizza kept warm, candy, bottles of Gatorade and water – these are the mainstays of the diet of the fall high school sports fan. What really sets a concession stand apart from a food perspective are the extras. Something as simple as a basic hamburger is a bonus at these secondary sports. Because hamburgers cost more and can be difficult to prepare and keep “fresh,” they are not a regular concession item. Ethnic fare such as pierogis are great additions. We know we’re in the company of great concessionaires when fruit is available. Meatball subs are another item we love.

Then there are the facilities.

Most of the time these secondary teams get to play on good fields with bleachers, scoreboards, PA systems and, hopefully, real bathrooms with running water and flushing toilets. However for some games you carry your own chair-in-a-bag to a field 500 yards away from the nearest parking lot, have access to two porta-potties that are out of hand-sanitizer, and the concession stand is a small shack large enough for the average-size lawn mower.

But that’s what you do. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors, we’re happy to be there watching these kids play no matter what the conditions are, but as long as we’re there, we might as well evaluate, right? And if it wasn’t the furthest school from Happy Valley, if we had our choice we would be fine playing every away game at Chambersburg’s field. Now, if they could only get the concession line to move a little faster!



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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