High school football means more than the final score on the scoreboard when the clock hits 0:00. A whole world within a world surrounds the field. Fans, band directors, cheerleaders, coaches, referees, even the chain crew; all have their own stories to tell. One group finds high school games not only entertaining but also lucrative. These are the men and women who operate concession stands, whether official or otherwise, and rake in big money on game days from the thousands of fans who head to the stadium to watch their school’s team in action. Last Friday night’s contest between Northside rivals Raines High School and host First Coast High School provided a perfect opportunity to view the world of the concession stands from up close.
For many, high school football would lose half its atmosphere without those game-day snacks. The long lines and often steep prices don’t discourage fans from standing outside the concession stands to chat with their friends before the game and during breaks between quarters. They bustle with activity from the afternoon until the final whistle. Like popcorn at a movie theater, football food has become an integral part of the experience in the bleachers. But not everyone will be cheering in the aftermath. Descend from the press box to the field after a typical game and one must stomp over hundreds of peanut shells and dozens of candy wrappers, all left behind for the custodial staff to dispose of during the weekend.
Those who search for kale chips and similar healthy snacks should look elsewhere. Instead, you’ll find the kinds of football fare guaranteed to spook dentists, cardiologists, and personal trainers. There are fried wings, fried fish, fried fries, cheese fries, corn dogs, even fried chicken gizzards. They’re washed down with sweetened drinks in every fruity flavor under the sun. Ridgeview High School in Orange Park even offers the junkiest of junk foods, deep-fried Oreos.
In addition to the social mingling and plain old eating, football cuisine makes its mark in another way: Concession stands can rake in big money for those who sell food at the stadiums. First Coast has its own official concession stand, a large building called Buc’s Cafe after the school’s Buccaneers mascot. But independent boosters and food trailers set up outside for a sort of tailgate party within the grounds. With thousands of high school students and their families at the stadium, these vendors have a highly profitable business opportunity. New businesses, like the barbecue trailer shown here, can also show off their specialties in front of a young and hungry audience, which might secure long-term customers.
On this occasion, the action in the concession stands might have exceeded the fireworks on the field. Both First Coast and Raines entered the season with high expectations for success. But only one team ever had a chance in this one. First Coast raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and threw for 391 yards in all. For those who aren’t familiar with football stats, that’s a lot. The Buccaneers ended up trouncing their rivals by a 62-7 count, as described in my report for the Times-Union.