WELLS — It’s Homecoming at Wells High School, and Warrior Red is everywhere. A long line snakes from the parking lot to the football field, and another two lines are quickly forming at the concession stand.

It’s still about a half-hour before the game, but the announcer urges parents, students and other Warrior fans to go to the stand for some “delicious pulled pork, courtesy of the Maine Diner. Come get yours now!”

Freshman Kaleb McPhail eats fries at the Brunswick-Kennebunk game. Good fries are a mainstay at most schools known for their football concessions.

Then he segues into the introduction of the football team. Solid, sturdy teenage boys in red run onto the field carrying an American flag and a bronze shield. Wild cheers, accompanied by a chorus of cowbells, cut through the thick fog hanging over the field that makes the players look like ghostly apparitions. “Good evening, football fans, and welcome to Friday night football!” the announcer booms.

Meanwhile, inside the concession stand, Mark Blaisell is already flipping burgers while his friend, Jeremy Milligan, opens the lid to the freezer every few minutes to grab more frozen fries to put in the hot oil. It seems as if he can’t make them fast enough, and a look outside tells you why – mobs of children are running around, many in junior-sized football jerseys and cheerleading outfits, carrying pom-poms and inhaling fries and chicken tenders as fast as they can.

Concessions at high school football games help fuel fans as they root for their local teams on chilly autumn nights. The food is a bargain, with most menu items priced in the $3-$5 range – cheaper than the snacks at fall agricultural fairs – so that everyone can afford to fill their bellies, no matter their income level. Still, snack shacks are big moneymakers for the booster clubs that sponsor them. All the dollar bills handed over at the window go right back to the schools, sometimes to new uniforms, sometimes to buy new musical instruments.

THE FIRST TEAM

While every high school booster will tell you their concession stand is the best, a few stand out, with menus that go above and beyond hot dogs and hamburgers. At Wells, for example, the freezer is full of fries, chicken tenders and fried dough, but the stand also sells clam chowder, chili, and that pulled pork the announcer touted over the intercom. Drinks, candy and popcorn – and any other grab-and-go foods – are sold through an express window, a new feature this year designed to shorten lines. Before the night is over, about 500 people will fork over their cash for a snack or dinner, including retirees whose kids graduated 20 or 30 years ago, but they still come to root for the Warriors.

“If you ask around, reputation-wise, Wells has one of the best snack shacks in the state,” says Jimmy MacNeill, a member of the Wells High School Athletic Boosters who cooks on game nights and whose son, Braeden, just so happens to be the Warriors’ quarterback. “And I hear that from people out of Kennebunk, out of Noble. I hear that all the time.”

MacNeill’s family owns the Maine Diner on U.S. Route 1, which has been contributing chili to sell at the concession stand for more than 10 years. This year, MacNeill added pulled pork.

“It isn’t actually the diner recipe,” he said. “It’s my own. It’s more suited for the sandwiches here because the sauce is thin and it doesn’t get the bun all soggy. It’s easier to eat.”

Fans line up at the music boosters’ concession stand during a football game against Lake Region on Sept. 21 at Gardiner Area High School’s Hoch Field.

The stand also sells creamy clam chowder, donated by Mike and Linda McDermott, owners of Mike’s Clam Shack just down the road – another arrangement that dates back at least a decade. Dunkin’ Donuts contributes coffee and hot chocolate. Shields Provisions, a family-owned wholesale butcher, gives the boosters a deal on hamburgers and hot dogs, according to Bridget Dempsey, vice president of the boosters, and Pizza Market gives them a discount on pizza.

Hayden Jellison and Andrew Iles, both 10th graders at Wells, have parked themselves at one of about a half-dozen picnic tables to watch the game. They are eating, of course, chicken tenders and fries.

Jellison said he thinks the food is “great.”

“It’s not overly priced like most of them tend to be,” he said. “You can actually come here with $5 and get an entire meal.”

“It’s, like, $6,” his friend corrects him. They’re talking about a special “meal deal” that’s available at the stand.

“That includes a drink,” Jellison said. “And the food’s actually not bad.”

Sitting nearby, Normal Miele is hunched over a $3 cup of “excellent” clam chowder, steadily spooning it into his mouth. It’s his first time eating here, and he’s not disappointed.

“My buddy had the pulled pork, and he said it was awesome,” Miele said.

Turns out Miele, known to students as “Mr. Norm,” is a bus driver for the opposing Winthrop High School team. Miele said Winthrop’s concessions are the usual hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries. “This stand rates higher than others because it’s more of a variety,” he said, adding that it is probably “equal to Gardiner.”

Volunteer Christopher Marrow cooks hot dogs, burgers and sausage for a Brunswick High School game.

#GARDINERGOALS

Ask around about good concessions at high school football games, and Gardiner Area High School comes up a lot. There’s no question that Gardiner has some of the best variety, mainly because there are three organizations selling to the Friday night crowd. The All Sports Boosters sells pizza, homemade chili (a “huge seller” at $2 a bowl, says president Veronica Babcock, who has a son who plays on the school’s soccer team), nachos with chili or cheese, soft pretzels, popcorn, and fresh-cut fries for $4 a serving. This year, for the second year in a row, the concession is offering poutine – fries with gravy and cheese curds – for an extra dollar.

At halftime, the All Sports Boosters feed the referees free hot dogs, french fries and a drink.

That would be enough at most schools, but not Gardiner. The Gardiner Music Boosters have their own shack at every football game, where they sell sweet and spicy grilled sausage sandwiches – about 100 per game – steak sandwiches, fried dough, and nachos.

“People come to the games just to get their weekly dose of sausage sandwiches,” says David Walker, music teacher and band director.

For years, one Pittston man came with his wife to all of the Tigers’ games, and the couple always bought sausage sandwiches – one spicy, one sweet. When she died a couple of years ago, he tried watching the games by himself but found it “too lonely,” said Rusty Greenleaf, the shack supervisor, who has two daughters in band and one in chorus. So now the Pittston fan drives in by himself, right up to the snack shack, and buys two sausages to take home.

“He so looks forward to that,” Greenleaf said.

A pot of chili from the Maine Diner stands ready to feed hungry fans at a Friday night football game in Wells on Sept. 14.

Another wildly popular item in Gardiner is the fried dough bites, invented by Greenleaf’s wife. They are basically rounds of dough cut up into smaller pieces for frying. “They’re very popular,” Greenleaf said. “Actually, they’re much easier to eat than the full-sized dough.”

For dessert, try a big homemade brownie – or head over to the volleyball boosters’ shack for apple crisp made by varsity volleyball coach Maitland Hallett and his wife, Laura.

Sometimes a hungry crowd comes through like a cloud of locusts and cleans out the concessions. That’s what happened in Wells on Homecoming night. “We sold out of everything,” Dempsey said, “even bottles of water.”

Leftovers are rare, thanks to the careful calculations of experienced booster volunteers who have been ordering food for years.

At Biddeford High School, whose team is also called the Tigers, cooked leftovers are usually given to the home team after the game – and sometimes the opposing team as well. “We’ll put a big tray together and put it in the locker room for them,” said Jerry Lapierre, who runs the concessions for the Biddeford Athletic Association, founded in 1947.

Lapierre started volunteering when is oldest son was in peewee football. That son is now 36 years old. He joined the executive board 14 years ago and is going on eight years as president of the organization.

Dough bites fresh from the fryer await some hungry fan at the Sept. 21 Lake Region-Gardiner game.

“I love working with people,” Lapierre said. “I love the city of Biddeford. You have to have the passion for it.”

Biddeford sells pizza – 48 to 60 pies every game, baked in the boosters’ own pizza ovens – from two local pizzerias, Louis and TJ’s. Also on the menu: hot dogs, french fries, onion rings, gravy and cheese fries, chicken tenders, hamburgers (275-300 per game) from Ray’s Market made from beef that’s ground the morning Lapierre picks it up.

Biddeford concessions serve hundreds of fans, but could feed up to 5,000-6,000 people if necessary, “no problem,” according to Lapierre. “We could have eight or nine windows set up serving people,” he said, “and most of the other schools, if they have two, they’re lucky.”

Biddeford’s food prices stayed the same this year, and the athletic association will still make a 50 to 60 percent profit since it doesn’t have to pay its volunteers. The $25,000-$30,000 raised annually through concessions goes back into sports and sporting equipment, uniforms and awards. If a team wins a state championship, that hot dog you wolfed down while watching the line of scrimmage helps provide $75 to each player so they can buy a celebratory ring or jacket. Some of the funds go back into the concessions themselves. If a pizza warmer breaks, the bill for a new one is around $1,500, Lapierre says. Fryolaters cost $500.

At Gardiner, where All Sports Booster volunteers serve 200-300 people at each football game, the goal is to raise $6,000 to $8,000 a year through concessions, which is the biggest moneymaker out of all their fundraising activities. Babcock says the boosters have been criticized for not raising prices, but they want people in the community who don’t have a lot of money to be able to enjoy a hamburger or slice of pizza at a game without worry.

A volunteer at the volleyball team concessions table tops apple crisp with ice cream in Gardiner.

“We’re out to make money,” she said, “but not at the expense of people not being able to afford it.”

Walker says that over the years the money raised by the Gardiner Music Boosters from concessions (in a good year, it’s a third or more of what they bring in from all their fundraisers combined) has gone to scholarships, awards, instruments, supplies, and music arrangements – and not just for high school students, but for all of the K-12 music programs. Concessions money, Walker says, paid the $30,000 tab for the buses the school band took on a recent two-week trip to Washington, D.C.

You might think there would be a little friendly rivalry among the three Gardiner concessions, but Greenleaf says they manage to keep the competition on the football field.

“They do their thing and we do our thing, but we all work together,” he said. “If they run out of ketchup, we give them ketchup. We’re all there for the kids. That’s what it’s all about.”

As Coach Eric Taylor from “Friday Night Lights” would cheer after every pre-game pep talk: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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