February 24, 2010
31st blog - A team's gotta eat. And that's no easy task
By Brendan O'Hallarn
I've just spent two ODU games doing what many fans do when the team is on the road - living and dying with each pass and shot while I watch my beloved Monarchs on television. Tuesday's night's grinding 75-62 win over Georgia State in Atlanta was naturally a little easier on my stomach than Friday's agonizing loss to ranked Northern Iowa. But again, my remedy was to flip off the TV and forget all about it.
Road games are a little different for the team's executive assistant Annette Manley. With help from team trainer Jason Mitchell, director of basketball operations Joel Hines and assistant coach Rob Wilkes, Manley is responsible for what the team eats on the road. And it's not as simple as sending the boys to Sonic.
"It's a three-ring circus, actually," says Manley, an ODU grad in sports management who attended nearby Maury High. "It sounds simple, but it really is complex. You have to have something nutritious, but you also have to have enough. It's 13 guys, and they're six-two and up, 190 and up, and they eat a lot. We want to have enough food, but we want to stay within our budget."
The circus aspect comes from the logistics of ordering food at a hotel in somewhere like Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Manley has never been.
"I try to get everything in writing, down to the color of the tablecloth. But there's often a glitch. The dessert didn't show up, you asked for meatloaf but you got the baked chicken," she says.
"The biggest hiccup would be time, because everything is on a time schedule. You've got dinner from 6 to 7, you've got a meeting at 7:30. It kind of throws everything off if the food isn't there at a specified time."
Manley works hand-in-hand with Mitchell, who does the menu for home games, and acts as the team's nutritional expert. At larger schools' programs, an employee is assigned to do simply that, and not tend to the players' bumps and bruises, which Mitchell deals with as well.
Mitchell, a graduate of ODU's master's program in science and education, with an athletic training emphasis, is in his third year as assistant athletic trainer. "My end is really easy. I work a lot with Aramark. I just make the setup. I'm just here to do the menu," Mitchell says. "They do a really good job. They give me a list of all the menus, and I sit there and piecemeal it out."
Mitchell does a medical history with the players when they enter the program, to see if there are any serious food allergies. Then he keeps a running tab on what the players like and dislike, so he can keep the menus interesting for the players, while still offering the whole grains, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates the team needs for optimal performance...
Are there picky eaters among the team members? "Of course. I get that all the time," Mitchell says. "It's sort of hit or miss. But as long as the health things are in order, it's OK."
Manley is a bit of a heavier hand when it comes to her boys. "Don't let the size fool you. They're just like kids sometimes," she says. "It's no different dealing with a 20 year old that's 200 pounds, and dealing with a 10 year old … Mom, I don't want these green beans. Just like you deal with your own kids, you tell them 'Too bad. You need your vegetables so you're going to eat them.'"
Manley says it's a little easier when she's on the road with the team, "so I can walk from table to table saying 'You don't have such and such on your plate.'" With the past couple of Monarchs' teams, Mitchell has had a somewhat unusual problem. The guys on the team are so fit, and so healthy, he has to encourage them to eat MORE.
"They don't eat enough. They don't realize how many calories they're burning. Something I'll talk to them about is breakfast, remembering to put a few granola bars in their backpack for after class."
Boy, I remember those days, needing to eat more to stay healthy. Fifteen years, a desk job and two kids make me look longingly at the tasty spread the team gets served before games.
Of course, seeing the energy they expend on the court makes any result by the Monarchs, comfortable win or agonizing loss, easier to digest.
Brendan's Blog 46