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Escalon’s Pre-Game Meal Tradition Still Going Strong
Like they do before every home football game, the varsity Cougars line up to get dinner and have a team meal at the pavilion adjacent to the Escalon Community Center, with parents providing the food, cooking it and serving it. Marg Jackson/The Times

At a school where the popular football saying is ‘Tradition Never Graduates’ there is another tradition that has been enjoyed by football players for years.

Prior to each home game, the varsity team gathers for a meal, cooked and served by team parents.

Making their way to the nearby Community Center pavilion once school lets out for the day, the players are greeted by a group of parents and get in line for a hearty meal.

This past Friday, before the regular season final home game, the menu featured Mexican food, with nachos, grilled meat, tortillas, beverages and mini Bundt cakes for dessert.

Players also took time prior to the meal to gather in a circle to pray, asking for a safe game that evening for themselves and their opponents and thanking those that had prepared the food.

“We usually feed 40 kids so we normally prepare enough food for 80,” said team parent Karen Walden, whose son Jacob is a member of the varsity squad. “They will all go through the line and they all will go again.”

Helping coordinate the meals this season was Ryan Smith, with her son Kaden Christensen also on the varsity team.

“Every parent has the opportunity to sign up,” Smith said, adding that most parents help out at some point during the season, whether it is providing food, cooking or serving or putting together sack lunches that the players eat on the bus coming home from away games.

“By far most of the parents take part,” she said.

They’ve had barbecued ribs, Mexican dinners, tri-tip … the menu always features plenty of protein to help get the players ready. Served about 3:30 p.m., there is adequate time to digest the dinner before they have to take the field later that night.

Walden said it is a unique experience, watching as the players arrive, some coming by themselves, some arriving in small groups, but all waiting until everyone has gotten to the pavilion before gathering for the prayer or making a move to get in line.

“They don’t stay long,” she added. “They eat and they’re gone.”

But they never leave without offering a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all those parents that have turned out to help and the same is true for the away games, she said, the players expressing their appreciation for the lunches provided for the bus ride home.

It is a tradition that has been going on for as long as most can remember, dating back years.

“It’s just great, every home game we are here, every away game they provide for us, we are just so grateful,” said team captain Frank Leal, who noted that he has enjoyed the taco and rib dinners the best. “It’s a nice way to get us together as a team.”

“It says a lot about family,” added captain Nash Satnat, who said it helps build team camaraderie to sit down and share the pre-game meal. “It creates a strong bond.”

Captain Cole Gilbert echoed the sentiment.

“The camaraderie we have, it’s just a brotherhood,” he said.

Captain Lucciano Dutra admitted to being partial to the barbecued ribs the team enjoyed this season and agreed that having the pre-game meal together is special.

“I just feel like in Escalon, we’ve got the best parents and the best fans, they take care of us all the time,” Dutra said.