By Thomas Sellers Jr.
I love food might be an understatement for June.
There is Father’s Day, multiple birthdays and a few barbecues I typically partake in during the sixth month of the year. I should be resting after a long TSSAA sports, years of concession stands, hospitality rooms and surprise treats.
From August to May, I eat gourmet dishes, desserts and creations. I love seeing familiar faces with great food at Brighton, Munford, Tipton-Rosemark Academy and Millington. Then when our teams go around the Mid-South taking on competition, I get treated to food from new faces with new recipes.
It’s time to reflect on 2015-16 — the view from my stomach. Thanks for all the motivation to hit the gym harder.
Best Foreign Food
Travel is a part of the job when covering sports. Outside of our coverage area are new rivals with the Millington Trojans moving to Class 2A like Covington, Ripley and Haywood. Then I get to visit traditional old friends like Bolton, Cordova and Arlington.
This year Arlington wins for Best Foreign Food with the three-day spread during the Region 7-3A Basketball Tournament. I got to watch standout players like Jalen Fisher, Nathan Hoover, Gabby Crawford and Charity Savage. In between baskets, I was eating pasta Alfredo, sub sandwiches made to my preference and some great barbecue.
The little yellow card that allowed me assess to the hospitality room was like a Gold Card. I guarded it with love and care. It was my best friend for three nights.
When it’s hot, you need a cold Powerade, Gatorade or a simple cup of icy water. But those nights when the temperatures are just freezing, you need HOT CHOCOLATE!
There are no other substitutes when you are going numb in your camera finger. And taking out the notebook to scribble down information is like sticking your hand into a bucket of ice water. It’s a sure bet that every April there will be a game that you think is being played in December.
One night in Brighton, I was rescued by Brighton All-Star teacher Becky McBride. She saw my need for internal warmth as I slowly walked to the Little Red House. I was shaking from the wind blowing through my body.
And typical McBride form, the intelligent woman knew I needed another large cup of the hot stuff to make sure I could finish the game and make it back to my car. Thank you Ms. Becky! Thank you!
Speaking of the Little Red House, Brighton’s Concession Stand was once again in the running for this award. But for the second year in a row, the staff at Millington Central High School was outstanding with the pre-game meal before Trojan Football games. The first year was great because the teachers, administrators and staff would come and drop special items on the grill. In 2015, they joined forces with the legends… The Waits Family.
So this is how my Friday night started, I would walk into the Ticket Gate welcomed by members of the Millington Kiwanis Club. After a greeting the Millington Boosters at their souvenir stand, I made the left turn to the Waits Grills. The large smoker would have at least one blood-relative of the late Rex Waits on the Grills, while the others were hugging and chatting with old friends. Nearby were adopted family members working the grills like a disc jockey at a rave.
After sharing my hugs and handshakes, I would get a burger or bite of the special item of the day. Nearly full, I still muster up enough willpower to make it to the spread on the table provided by the MCHS personnel. Just a few of the standouts, pineapple dips, homemade potato skins, grilled chicken wings and double chocolate brownies.
Sometimes my press pass gets me assess to special areas. After a decade of covering standouts to TRA like David Owen, Lyndsey Sterling, the Moodys, the Whitleys, Robyn Hornsby, Drew Hanks and many more, I would have to calm down from the athletic greatness with some nachos. And one of the trademarks at TRA in the concession stand was the signature cheese that accompanies the nacho chips.
I’ve always bragged on the nacho and cheese at the home of the Rebels. But this year during a basketball game, the crew working in the concession area gave me the recipe on how to make the cheese. I was invited behind the door to see the creative process. The combination of ingredients and attention to detail make the cheese phenomenal.
So two traditions will continue at TRA, great athletes will be on the playing field and those nachos will be on the menu.
Best Tournament or Special Spread
Chilling at Munford Basketball one night, I was enjoying the game when Munford Athletic Director Mike Huffman approached me. We exchanged hellos and did a little catching up. Then out of nowhere he said, ‘Hey, Thomas we have a little something back there if you want to grab something to eat.’
There was no game-related reason. It was a meal put together for the teachers and faculty. With lower expectations, I made my way toward the Home-Economics Room. When I walked through the door, it was an OMG moment. There was a long table of meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits and sweet treats. Nearby was a spread of cakes and pies. And to wash it all down was the second preferred beverage of Tipton County… sweet tea. For some reason I think Dr. Pepper is No. 1 in those parts.
I digress, that night I ended up eating two plates featuring the fried chicken. I enjoyed the refreshing taste of the fruit platter with primetime selections like strawberries, pineapples and crisp apples.
There were so many great tournament spreads at my schools this year but the surprise element of the Munford Buffet give them the edge.
The 2016 Waits Family Award does go to the Waits Family… wait, hear me out. I know I said they wouldn’t be eligible anymore. And yes it seems they still pick up the award every year. But they are the best for a reason. They always bring out something new. And with the next generation gearing up the grill with Hunter and Ben, this tradition will continue for many more years.
The reason the Waits won their own award this year is simple, two words — wild turkey. It melted in my mouth. The savory flavor on the tender smoked meat was the ideal start to Homecoming Night. They always bring out a big gun for Homecoming. And I’m grateful they eliminated some wild turkeys out there. I didn’t know turkeys could be wild. But the Waits Grill tamed those wild turkeys and my stomach was their final resting place.
Best Hot Dog
This is my annual shout out to the Rebel Dog at TRA. It’s the best in the business. I don’t have enough words to express the greatness of the Rebel Dog. But there is another winner for Best Hot Dog in 2016. And it came on the last day of eligibility.
During the 2016 AutoZone Shelby County All-Star Baseball Game at USA Stadium, I was enjoying the new post Memorial Day tradition of seeing the best seniors on the diamond in the historic venue.
Late in the contest with the Public School All-Stars in control, I made a quick stop by the USA Concession Stand for a hot dog. To my surprise the legendary Tommy Rogers was behind the glass. ‘What can I get you Thomas?’ From one Thomas to another, I received my hot dog. The difference is the Thomas giving the hot dog is a NJCAA Hall of Famer. So I hope y’all good people at TRA understand… I got a Rebel-Dog style frank from a freaking Hall of Famer.
You always remember that first moment when you see that special something. It’s not quite love at first sight but you know a spark is there.
It was in the Brighton High School Home Economic Room. There were others on the table. Vying for my attention were baby corn dogs, Well’s Kitchen chicken and even a full salad bar. Although they were very attractive and had a special quality to them, there was a pan sitting on the dessert table that quietly caught my eye.
I walked over to her and introduced myself. The tan creation in the pan wasn’t overwhelming by sight. But I saw something special in it. So I asked one of the attendees about the cake. It’s Ms. April Simpson’s homemade Peanut Butter Cake.
Not a big fan of peanut butter, I cut a small piece of the cake. Then I took that first creamy and moist bite. ‘Oh my sweet heavens,’ was the first thought. I immediately cut a wedge out of that pan because this might be my only encounter with this heavenly treat.
After love at first bite, I thought I would never see her again. Through the next few weeks I would talk about her to anyone who would listen. Then I ran into Brighton Softball player Haley Simpson. I dropped a few hints to her about maybe…possibly… getting a cake made.
Amazingly on the same day the Lady Cardinals clinched a spot in the Class 3A State Softball Tournament for the first time in 6 years, Ms. April gave Haley a FULL Peanut Butter Cake to present to me.
I was the biggest winner on the field that day. My cake overshadowed Seeley Layne’s amazing pitching season, the blowout win over Houston and all the great defensive players by Brighton. Simply leaving the field after a couple of bites of my cake, I was on top of the world. Reunited and it tasted so, so good.
Best Food Moment
Home games during the football season, my food needs are secured thanks to the wonderful people of Millington and MCHS. But for road games, a new tradition started this past season with my friend Colin Murray. The MCHS graduate is also a die-hard Trojan fan and is friends with many of his former teachers and administrators.
My sidekick and I had a couple of decent road trips like to Covington and to Hernando. It was in Mississippi I experienced my first Waffle House trip. Yes, my first trip to a Waffle House. Colin couldn’t believe it either. So as we headed into the Hernando location, Colin is bragging on the harsh browns, portion sizes and burgers.
Could my first meal at Waffle House live up to the hype my boy Colin was preaching. As my plate arrived with my double cheese burger and harsh browns, I was impressed by the presentation.
Then came my bite into my burger. It was greasy heaven. I realize quickly you don’t go to the Waffle House for a healthy meal. To make things better, it was Colin’s treat. Out of all the places we ate, Chinese food and Southern buffet among them, the Waffle House was the best experience.
Hall of Fames are special places and achievements. Back in the fall, Millington All-Time great Jasmine Newsome was going to be honored as part of the MCHS Athletic Hall of Fame with her 2007-08 State runner up team. Also that evening, Newsome’s No. 22 jersey was going to be retired by the school, first female athlete in school history.
Right by Newsome’s side were her family including parents Vincent Sr., and Trina. For one night Ms. Trina didn’t have to worry about the food. She was a part of the special entourage of Jasmine.
But the giving and caring Mom she is, Ms. Trina had a few request for her trademark spicy wings and pasta salad. I was one of those asking for the duo.
And right on time during the Lady Trojan district tournament game against Ripley, I received a care package of wings and pasta. What made it so special this time, I shared with the legendary Jasmine Newsome.
She was back in town getting a break from her coaching duties at UT-Martin. So busy, she hadn’t had time to stop by the house to get a quick bite to eat. I was all too happy to share her Mother’s cooking with her.
That’s when I knew I was a part of the Newsome family. A bond through basketball, food and love.