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Press box food

John Robert Starr, who served many years as the mercurial managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat, did me one of the great favors of my life when he ordered me to move to Washington back in 1986.

As related in the initial post on this blog, I didn’t want to cover Congress and the federal government. I hadn’t applied for the Washington job. I was having too much fun covering sports.

That’s when Starr related to me the question he had once asked himself: “Do I want to be 50 years old and begging a naked 18-year-old kid for a quote?”

Because I turn 50 next week, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about lately about that career move. I imagine I could have been quite happy spending my career as a sportswriter and editor. It’s a fun way to make a living. But had Starr not forced me to move 1,100 miles away to the nation’s capital, I never would have met my wife. I likely never would have set foot in the White House (I had the honor of visiting in the White House at one time or another with Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43), worked for interesting political characters or come to know some of Arkansas’ top civic and business leaders.

Hitting the half-century mark, I might have found myself single, with no kids, still living in an apartment, not making much money and working nights. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. As noted, I loved my years as a sportswriter. You get paid to attend what other people must buy tickets to attend. It’s just that I kind of like the course my life actually has taken. And I’m still able to dabble in all kinds of sports activities.

I do know one thing for certain. I’m big, but had I remained a sportswriter, I would be even bigger (i.e. fatter). That’s because sportswriters get lots of free food. College and professional press boxes are known to put on great spreads. And there now are plenty of high schools that get in on the act.

When I covered the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1980s, there was nothing better than getting to Texas Stadium early and eating the beef brisket, sausages and barbecue sauce in the press box while then-general manager Tex Schramm loudly held court at an adjacent table. In Austin, legendary University of Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey was known for bringing in great Mexican food from Matt’s El Rancho.

In 1980, ABC moved the Arkansas-Texas game in Austin to Labor Day. Wally Hall and I first drove to Dallas for a Saturday night Cowboys preseason game and gorged on the brisket and hot links. We then drove on down to Austin for Mexican food on Sunday night at a restaurant and more Mexican food on Monday night in the press box.

I always try to make it to at least one Arkansas State University game each fall to sit in athletic director Dean Lee’s box. Dean is one of those who does food right. The chili on the cold afternoon of Nov. 22 last year (it barely reached 30 degrees that day) was some of the best I’ve ever had.

So where is the best press box food in Arkansas?

Old friend Walter Woodie puts in a vote for Van Buren High School. And it appears that Van Buren, still trying to overcome the fact that Bill Vickery once played football there, does indeed treat those in the press box to a feast.

Walter sent me the menu for this season.

For the first home game against Alma, a taco dinner will be served.

For the second home game against Bryant, it will be shades of Texas Stadium with brisket on the menu.

For the third home game against Little Rock Catholic, meatloaf is the main course. By the way, I’ve found the best meatloaf in central Arkansas. It’s chef Lee Richardson’s special each Tuesday for lunch at the Capital Hotel Bar & Grill.

For the fourth home game against Conway, turkey and dressing will be served.

And the final home came against North Little Rock will feature what the school describes as “crockpot stuff.”

There are a lot of you out there who are associated with high school or college sports as a statistician, radio person, public address announcer, etc. So help me out. Cast your vote for the best press box food in Arkansas.

And, while you’re at it, tell me which basketball tournaments have the best hospitality rooms. As sportswriters, we used to judge basketball tournaments by the quality of the so-called hospitality rooms and their free food.

Bring on football season.

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