Another great year of TSSAA sports is in our rearview mirrors. And as the 2015-16 sports calendar speeds to the starting line, I must pause at the stop sign of life to reflect on all the great grub I enjoyed covering events.
We had stops all over Tennessee from Lawrenceburg to Arlington. I even stood at the Eiffel Tower in Paris…Tennessee. Whether it was Martin, Arlington or here at home, I made sure to mark most sporting events with something to eat.
Now is the time to hand out The Genuine Article’s Awards for Best in Food 2015. Let’s accelerate and navigate down food memory lane.
Best Foreign Food
The Millington Star has compiled many datelines throughout 2014-15. Among all the hours driven away from our coverage area, the best food stop was in Arlington. The home of the Tigers hosted the District 14-3A Basketball Tournaments and Regionals in wrestling.
That gave my stomach multiple chances to enjoy the spread provided in the hospitality areas. Plenty of sweets, snacks and main course treats were on the tables. I love seeing a spread that needs more than one table and is displayed in different stations.
Tiger Nation has it down to a science. With Arlington winning so much lately in many different sports, the school has increased it chances of hosting tournaments and important games. The practice has paid off in the food!
Back in college I was a bartender. My Dad Thomas Sr. has performed the trade for decades now. He taught me, ‘Son, you make a drink that would taste good to you.’ So in the case of Thomas Jr., that would include something sweet, juice-based and non-alcoholic. While at the Trojan Wars back in December, Head Coach Bill Richardson and the Booster provided me with the perfect ingredients to mix my ideal beverage.
I started with some ice. Then I grabbed the lemonade and poured more than half the cup. I added a splash of sweet tea. But this wasn’t going to be an Arnold Palmer or VIP. The last addition was some good ole Florida orange juice. I called my creation Memphis Sunset. The colors in the cup remained me of a late December evening with the sun going down behind some naked trees driving along I-40. And the taste was refreshing and gave me the boost I needed to go across town to cover the Liberty Bowl High School All-Star Football game.
For years the little Red House between the Brighton High School Softball and Baseball fields had been home of wonderful combos, dishes and snacks.
This past year saw the workers increase the menu with simplicity. The variety increased with the offering combos featuring different side items. I could order cheese fries, chips or regular fries. Those would accompany a juicy burger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwich or barbecue sandwich. Plenty of beverage choices were available to wash it all down.
Now if you didn’t want a full meal, you would purchase those items separately. Now of course I went for a large basket of barbecue nachos. I dressed them with pickles and onions provided in the self-serve area. I found myself wanting to try so much more but I have to watch my figure. And keep in mind, I didn’t even touch on the sweets available…
Back in October my brother Cordarous “Chad” Sellers joined me to cover the 2014 District 13-3A Volleyball Tournament at Munford High School. I’ll be honest, he didn’t attend for the games. He heard Mama Betty Hale was sending meatballs, chicken salad and other delicious trademark dishes to the hospitality room. Just like my brother, others have become aware of how great Mama Hale’s creative genius because most of her food was gone by the time we arrived. To the rescue were these hush puppies.
If hush puppies are near that means fried fish. The Hall of Famer Mr. Adrian Nathaniel was frying up all-star caliber fillets of catfish. I literally had to rip a piece out of brother’s hands to taste it before it was all gone. The delicious hush puppies were the perfect Robin to the catfish’s Batman. The brown circles of battered joy had onions and I think I detected pineapple chunks.
Golden catfish and deep-fried flavor hush puppies saved the day for us. And once again Munford High School’s yellow hospitality room was a ray of sunshine to my stomach.
Best Tournament or Special Spread
Word got back that I missed out on most of Mama Hale’s treats. And after the guru made a holiday stop in her old stomping grounds of Maryland to learn some more creative dishes with seafood, Mama Hale returned to Millington and made me a special basket of dinner. While Mama Hale was on vacation, the family made sure I kept up my strength with special treats from Ms. Tricia, Ms. Nina and Ms. Mary.
Then it was time for the Big Guns with Mama Hale returning with her savory roast beef (of course a jar of gravy). Now the woman makes green beans that could be the whole meal. But thank God she realizes it’s only a side dish. Sweet corn, mash potatoes and improved yeast rolls made up the rest of the menu. The not-so secret ingredient to all that wonderful food is love.
You can taste the love in the dishes from Mama Hale and her daughters-in-law. That was confirmed when my friend Hadassah Johnson stole some of the food in my basket. ‘Oh my God this is so delicious. That woman really loves you!’
Her taking my food almost ended our friendship but I’m glad she made me realize how much Mama Hale loves me. The feeling is 100 percent mutual.
The 2015 Waits Family Award goes to Zane Adams and the MCHS Grillers. All the visitors to Millington Trojan Football games this past season saw two grills going. The Rex Waits Corner was buzzing with community and business leaders along side some of the greats who wore the black and gold on the gridiron.
The new grill in town belonged to the staff and faculty of Millington Central High School Principal Clint Durley organized dining area for them to build unity among the personnel. The plan worked with tremendous success. Durley was kind enough to invite me to share in a meal with the teachers, coaches, maintenance crew and administration.
You never knew who you find on the grill. One game you would see Coach Hank Hawkins and the next time Durley is wearing the apron surrounded by smoke. But the highlight of the grill in 2014 was Baseball Head Coach and Trojan alum Zane Adams grilling my chicken wings, broccoli and hamburger in one night. ‘The grill makes anything taste better,’ were Adams words. He was right. That was some good smoked broccoli.
Best Hot Dog
The Rebel Dog at Tipton-Rosemark Academy is the unquestionable star of any concession stand during a school event. If you’re going to attend a sporting event at TRA, order the Rebel Dog and request some of the school’s trademark cheese to go on top. It’s a very special treat.
Let’s go back to TRA for this year’s Special Item of the Year. During the spring, the newspaper industry gets a string of signings. The Rebel Baseball program celebrated the signing of Gil Erwin during May. The pitching and outfield standout was heading to Christian Brothers University and like most TRA signings there was a cake. But this cake was made by Gil’s mother Kendy. Before I could get a piece of this cake, almost every teacher, administrator and staff member walked into the Teacher’s Lounge saying, ‘Oh we have some of Gil’s Momma’s Strawberry Cake!’ The joy that came across their faces and the eagerness to grab forks indicated I must have a piece. So I cut a small piece of the juicy cake submerged in plump strawberries. One bite and I was heading back toward the cake to cut a larger piece.
Shortly after my first delicious encounter with the legendary cake that has made multiple appearances at TRA, Ms. Kendy brought me my own cake. Lucky me!
Best Food Moment
Traveling can be part of a sports writer’s job. This year’s football playoffs were miles and miles aways for the Millington Trojans. The Trojans eventually traveled more than 500 miles in one direction toward Lawrenceburg and Paris. The back-to-back weeks gave me a chance to ride in the truck of Kirk Orman along side Millington’s own Steven A. Smith.
ROAD TRIP! Millington’s best video team and sports reporter were on the road to bring the sights, sounds and in depth coverage of the playoffs. But before we could get to work, we had a chance to stop by a couple of local eateries in those towns.
We had a chance to see an intimate piece of Tennessee with towns smaller than Millington. Barbecue and burgers were on the menu for us. But it was the fact we eating them in places that are those towns’ Old Timer’s.
My next road trip came a couple of months later with Trina and Sgt. Vincent Newsome. The parents of the All-Time Millington Basketball great Jasmine Newsome were heading up to Martin for a college basketball game. Jasmine graduated last year but the Newsomes were heading up to watch another Millington great Tiara Caldwell.
On the way up there, I kept talking about Hardee’s. I used a delayed method of begging to get Sgt. to stop by the restaurant. Trina was skeptical when it came to my bragging, compassion and pure love of the Hardee’s lineup of burgers.
So we stopped in to grab a bite to eat before the game. Trina made an order but waited to eat her burger later. She did compliment the appearance of the sandwich. They are works of art.
After watching Tiara and her teammate Ashia Jones destroy Jacksonville State, Trina tried her burger. ‘Oh Thomas, this is good even cold!’ The story ends with us going back to Hardee’s before heading back to Millington. And I didn’t instigate this trip.
This year’s top winner didn’t feed me at a basketball game or football battle. Actually this gourmet chef brought the treats and snacks to our office. He even would set them on my desk at times. This year’s Best Overall is Charles Maddox of Millington. This longtime Flag City resident and Memphis Tiger Football fan blessed us with donuts from local vendors.
Although that was good enough, Mr. Maddox would head to his kitchen and create us desserts like homemade turtles and cakes. Around the holidays, we can count on Mr. Maddox to hook us up with the salty snack of oyster crackers.
Some might think the Tigers’ 10-win season put Mr. Maddox in a great mood to bring us treats and gifts from his personal sports collection. But even before Memphis finished as a nationally ranked team, Mr. Maddox would grace us with his smile and zeal for life.
This cancer survivor appreciates every moment and wants to share his love of sports, travel, Millington, his wife, his dog Rambo, family and friends with us.
I see Mr. Maddox as a cool grandpa. He always has great stories of the Tiger glory days of beating Florida State, Alabama and that one win over Tennessee.
Then the I-phone comes out with pictures of Hollywood celebrities, Tiger greats and his beautiful family.
Our friendship started with I Topple Thomas and him beating me in the picks every week. I’m sure he owns a few shirts with my ugly face on them. I think it’s a fair trade for the impression he’s made on my heart. I love that man and really appreciate him sharing a part of himself with me.
Mr. Maddox has taught me what true loyalty is. He has displayed in many aspects of his life including those Tigers. When Memphis was subpar, Mr. Maddox would always pick them in the I Topple Thomas panel. It gave me an advantage some weeks.
And I know he has that kind of devotion to the staff at The Millington Star. Our hearts, soul and stomachs have been the better for it.