French toast for breakfast, pepperoni pizza for lunch, first-dinner after school – it’s a Friday, game day for the Knights.
Downey High packs camaraderie and calories into the pregame prep for its 54-member varsity football team. Coaches cook and serve the breakfast. Parents provide the after-school meal.
“This makes the day,” said left guard Spencer Massey, as he loaded up on fresh fruit, eggs and French toast, the Downey breakfast of champions.
Sitting with an empty plate before him, wide receiver Jeffry Jones said time as a team matters. “Spending time with each other is the main thing. It helps get our minds off things,” Jones said.
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“And the French toast is the bomb!” added quarterback Paul Wilson.
French toast, on the menu every week, serves as linebacker Sam Scott’s lucky charm. The season’s going well for him, he said, loading up his plate. “You can’t play sports without being a little superstitious,” he said.
The toast is prepared the night before by the culinary arts classes of teacher Chris May, one of the defensive team coaches. Students prep the French toast. Coaches cut up the fruit, cook the eggs and serve the athletes, then collaborate on a spicier meal for themselves while they talk over game strategies and pro picks.
“The coaches try to take care of the team; see the kids – the smiles on their faces,” May said. “It also morphed into a chance for us coaches to get together and communicate.”
May used to just feed his own defensive subteam, but with the gleaming new walk-in cooler and multiple ovens and commercial ranges now in place for culinary arts students, feeding a crowd became child’s play. A grant renovated the kitchen facility. Booster club earnings pay for the event.
After school, parents pitch in with a meal they’ve prepared, said Principal Richard Baum. “It’s just a wonderful tradition,” he said.
Head coach Jeremy Plaa wants to see every varsity player at breakfast on Fridays, building that pregame mindset and fueling the engines. The at-school meals work for Downey, which has a split attendance area covering its neighborhood and a section in south Modesto.
“About a third of the team is bused in. They don’t have transportation to go to different homes, but they’re here,” Plaa said.
“Feeding them is important,” he said, noting many schools have a pregame meal tradition. Watching running back Mario Sanchez load fresh fruit on his plate, Plaa estimated the teen would run through 2,000 calories at the game that night.
That’s more than slimmed down, obesity-fighting school menus provide, May said. “It’s getting enough calories. School lunches just don’t have enough calories for competitive athletes,” he said.
So the teams get extra on game day – extra food, extra time together and a little extra good will from caring adults.
“It’s part of helping boys become quality young men. It’s not just about X’s and O’s on Friday nights,” May said.