Courtney Cummings has a difficult task every Friday during the high school football season.
She arrives at Church of the Cross about 1 p.m. on those days to begin preparing the Bayshore High football team’s pregame meal, which requires cooking for about 35 players and 10 staff members on a budget of around $100.
Still, Cummings is able to make a range of dishes, whether it’s chicken alfredo, enchiladas or shepherd’s pie — and a lot of it.
“We obviously have some big hosses that go up there two or three times,” Bruins coach John Biezuns said. “We got one over 400 (pounds) and two over 350. Those guys don’t eat just one plate.”
These pregame meals are an important part of a high school football team’s game day routine. They provide players with energy to perform well and an opportunity to bond with teammates.
But a lack of funding can make putting together these meals difficult for teams such as the Bruins, who represent a high school at which a large percentage of the student body is eligible for free or reduced lunches. That leads Church of the Cross to feed them for free throughout the season and at the team’s banquet in either January or February.
“I don’t know what I’d do without them, to be honest,” Biezuns said. “We don’t have the funding, we don’t have the means. If it was up to me, it would be PB&Js. Church of the Cross bails us out big-time for that. They do a phenomenal job.”
Not every Manatee County high school football team lacks funding for pregame meals.
Some teams, such as Manatee High’s, have booster clubs that can help.
The Hurricanes are fed by the school’s culinary arts program, which usually makes chicken with a starch, a vegetable and a roll. The cost is at least $3,000 a season, Hurricanes coach Yusuf Shakir said, or about $300 per game, an expense that the team’s booster club foots.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids to get an opportunity and a chance to do those things and really get a chance to work at it, and we can also support our school and our kids all the way around,” Shakir said. “I think it’s a win-win.”
Although it’s different than what players might experience with a bigger team or one with more funding, Cummings and the two or three volunteers who work with her every Friday afternoon try to provide as good of a time as possible to the Bruins, whose pregame meals have been provided by Church of the Cross for four seasons.
And the players enjoy it, especially when their pregame meal contains breakfast items.
“When we do the pancakes and bacon, boy, there are no pancakes left in that pan,” said Biezuns, whose junior varsity team receives a free pregame meal from Fratello’s Chicago Pizzeria. “Our big linemen will eat that stuff up. They love those pancakes.”
In addition to the pregame meal, the church provides a speaker who gives them a motivational message and then plays football-related highlights on YouTube before the players leave.
Making food for about 50 people on a tight budget and then entertaining them for an hour can be a challenge, but Cummings and her volunteers enjoy their time with the Bruins.
“They always come in greeting us, ‘How are you doing?’ ” Cummings said. “They’re so grateful when they leave, thanking us. If we can bless them, feed them, that is a joy for us. To be Jesus’ hands and feet and feed them, that is a blessing. We absolutely love it.”