COLUMBUS North senior defensive lineman Logan Lunsford, usually an imposing figure at 290 pounds, was showing off a different side as he belted out a “Happy Birthday” tune during the Bull Dogs’ Thursday team dinner.
All around him, his teammates were laughing because ... well ... Lunsford is just a funny guy.
Although North coach Tim Bless noted that, “on the surface,” the team dinner is a way to get a healthy dinner the night before a football game, it also serves up a heaping helping of something else — camaraderie.
The Bull Dogs, who have dropped their first three games this season and go into tonight’s game at Franklin Central with their backs against the wall if they expect to contend for a Conference Indiana title, weren’t fixated on pressure. Anything but.
“It’s always a good time,” North running back Jonathan Byers said of the team dinner. “And it’s especially good when Logan Lunsford sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone. He is just goofy.”
Lunsford doesn’t mind a little clowning around at an event that has been cherished for being an oasis from regular football demands.
“It is a tradition, and I know a lot of guys will get a good meal and will have more energy toward the game,” Lunsford said. “But we’re really just laughing and having a good time. We kick back.
“I get to sing because I have the best voice and I’m the best looking. OK, no, it’s really just something that I want to pass down.”
Across town at East, the Thursday team dinner is being held at almost exactly the same time. Parents form an assembly line of food service, and the players zip past, piling up their favorites.
On this day, you wouldn’t want to be at the end of the line. Janet Day’s cheesy potatoes have been wiped out.
“I do a double batch and bring them in every week,” she said.
Her son, Zach Day, an Olympians senior defensive back, loves those cheesy potatoes, so when it came time to making a selection to bring to the weekly dinner, Janet Day decided to go with a tried-and-true recipe. Once again, it was a sellout.
Considering the target audience is a high school football team, the parents don’t have to worry much about missing the mark.
Michelle Hatchett, whose son John is a defensive lineman, organizes East’s football parents for the duty, but she said getting parents to help hasn’t been a chore at all this year. Her chore has been making enough fettuccine, using a recipe that had been handed off by former team mom Aleta Kiel.
Although Hatchett said “the boys are not picky,” the fettuccine long has been a favorite. Hatchett, who has “half a cow” being stored in her freezer at home for the dinners, said meatloaf is one of the few items to get the heave ho from the team dinner.
Coleslaw is another item that tends to stick around.
The rest is gobbled up at both East and North.
Bless gives few instructions to the parents, just that to lean toward proteins and carb-intensive foods. And no soft drinks. Columbus East coach Bob Gaddis says he has nothing to do with the process and allows the parents to handle it from beginning to end.
“The spaghetti we had the other night was real good,” Byers said of North’s dinner. “But they also have these real good barbecue chicken sandwiches.”
“I’m not down with chicken noodle soup,” Lunsford said. “But I’m a sucker for baked ziti and those Zwanzigz’s breadsticks.”
East senior Sean Owens said he can’t remember ever having anything bad.
“I look forward to the dirt pudding that my mom (Amy Tracy) makes,” said Owens, who knows where his bread is buttered.
“I still remember as a freshman, watching the guys sitting down there,” he said. “It’s like a rite of passage.”
At East, the dinner is for football players in Grades 10-12. At North, it is ninth through 12th grades.
As parents shovel out the food, the buzz of kids chatting forms a steady stream in the background.
“We talk, not about football, but about life,” Byers said. “We kind of let loose.”
Bless makes sure, besides dinner, his players can participate in a fellowship service if they so desire. Team chaplain Tom Rust sets up different speakers each week.
“Some people are not down with God,” Byers said. “But we all have the opportunity to be.”
Bless said it is part of “growing the complete man.”
It also helps to grow the parents.
“It’s labor intensive for the parents,” Bless said. “They have to put their time, energy and finances into it. I think it shows, though, that we all are in this thing together. And our kids would be devastated if it didn’t happen.”
It does happen, and Jonathan Voelker, whose son JT Voelker plays wide receiver for East, said it has been good for both kids and parents. “The parents get to feel they know the players,” he said.
As Jonathan Voelker was speaking, the East parents formed a line across the cafeteria and the Olympians passed through the line, hugging each.
In the end, East linebacker Logan Galarno picked out the thing that works best for all the players.
“We get great food from parents who love us,” he said.