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Moms keep showing up to provide food for athletes

Ian Maule/Tulsa World

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    Tulsa, Oklahoma (Tulsa World) — Four years ago, a friend mentioned that McLain High School’s football players hadn’t eaten since lunch and went on the field hungry to play a Friday night game.

It wasn’t unusual from what Keri Fisher heard. The players didn’t have time to run home for dinner between the end of school and the start of a game. And the program couldn’t afford a pre-game meal like some other teams have.

The next week, Fisher and a few other moms from Metro Christian got together and made spaghetti to take to the McLain locker room.

“It was just going to be that one time,” she told the Tulsa World recently. “That was the idea anyway. But they were so grateful, so appreciative, we told them we would come back again.”

A second pre-game meal turned into a third. Then the Metro moms decided to take food to McLain before every game for the rest of the season.

Then came basketball. And wrestling. Then soccer and track and volleyball. And before they knew it, football season was starting again. The Metro moms were feeding McLain athletes before every game in every sport, every season, for both the boys and girls teams.

“It was more of a blessing for us than it was for them, really,” said Fisher. “It was great for us because we would all get together and cook and then take it down there together. We were just having a lot of fun.”

COVID-19 changed that, of course. The food couldn’t be homemade. Each meal had to be individually packaged. And the moms had to deliver it and leave, without staying to eat with the teams.

“It hasn’t been the same,” Fisher says. “We miss the kids. But they still need to eat so we’re still doing it.”

The players, frankly, weren’t counting on it. They didn’t think the Metro moms would make it through the first season, much less the next four years. They’d get tired of doing it. They’d get bored.

“But no. They kept coming back again and again,” said Malachi Knighton, a senior football player at McLain High School of Science and Technology, 6 miles north of downtown in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tulsa. Metro Christian Academy, one of Tulsa’s best-known private schools, sits a little more than 6 miles south of downtown.

It’s a world apart economically, Knighton said.

“They know our parents can’t afford to bring the food for us, so they bring it,” he said. “What they do is amazing and it really is greatly appreciated.”

The Metro moms spend $150 to $200 per pre-game meal, with 10 to 12 meals per sport, per season. All of which adds up to several thousand dollars a year.

Not able to sustain the financial burden alone, the Metro moms started a nonprofit group called This Is Us to begin taking donations in late 2019. And they’re hoping to expand soon to Hale High School and maybe other disadvantaged campuses around Tulsa, if enough moms volunteer.

“I know this story is about what they do for athletes,” said McLain football coach Willie Ponder. “But that’s not all they do.”

Every Friday, the moms pack about 50 gallon-sized bags of food to send home with McLain students who wouldn’t otherwise have enough to eat over the weekend. And every Christmas, they send students home with backpacks full of food and gifts.

“It’s not just for athletes,” Ponder emphasized. “Maybe it started with athletes, but it’s not just for athletes anymore. These ladies are here for all the students.”

The food helps, he said. The socks and gloves and backpacks help. But they aren’t the most important things that the Metro moms bring.

“They show up,” Ponder said. “Our kids, they don’t necessarily have the best situations at home. But these ladies show up. They bring a sense of caring, a family atmosphere. Always a smile on their face. Sometimes, it’s good just to see a smile on someone’s face.”

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