VIENNA-The players were a little late, but the reception was still huge as 18 members of the West Virginia University football team were introduced to a packed house at the 16th annual Boys & Girls Club of Parkersburg Steak & Burger Dinner held at the Grand Pointe Conference Reception Center.
"My biggest thing is I want to make sure everyone has fun tonight," explained Boys and Girls Club of Parkersburg executive director Mike Flanagan. "If you have fun, then all of the rest falls into place."
Judging by the loud cheer and standing ovation the players received, fun was definitely in the air for all those in attendance.
Photos by Jeff Baughan
West Virginia University football player and former Parkersburg South gridder Cody Nutter, right, signs a Mountaineer calendar during Thursday’s Boys & Girls Club Steak and Burger Dinner at the Grande Point Conference Center in Vienna.
West Virginia University football player and former Parkersburg gridder Matt Lindamood, center, places his autograph on a football. Other Mountaineer players sign autographs for fans.
"It was neat to watch them (the players) on television and then get a chance to sit down with them and have a meal with them," explained 28-year old Andrew Jobes, a former member who now works for the Boys & Girls Club. "These kids don't get to meet too many upper level athletes around here and because of this event they get a chance to sit down and talk to the players.
"It a little thing, but the motivation the kids will take from it will be huge."
One such member was 14-year old VanDevender eighth grader Kendell Leary.
"It (seeing the players) means a whole bunch," said Leary. "To take time to spend with us with the schedule they have means a lot."
Among the group of players were former-Big Reds Matt Lindamood and Josh Jenkins, and former-Patriots Cody Nutter and Michael Molinari. Joining the quartet were Big East Special Teams Player of the Year and first-team All-American Tavon Austin, offensive linemen Jeff Braun, Russell Haughton-James, Nick Kindler and Pat Eger, wide receiver Connor Arlia, linebacker Tyler Anderson, fullback Nate Majnaric, safety Alex Burdette, nose guard Ben Tomasek, defensive end J.B. Lageman, tight end Cody Clay and long snapper Jerry Cooper.
"It is always special for me to come back here," said Jenkins, who missed the entire 2011 season recovering from a knee injury suffered during the 2011 Gold-Blue Scrimmage. "This area did so much for me growing up that it is important for me to come back and help repay them for all they did for me."
This year's event drew a record-number of corporate tables (28) and a total crowd of nearly 350 people.
"We could probably get more people in here, but they would be sitting elbow to elbow," laughed Flanagan, who announced that he was stepping down as the event's organizer after 16 years as its head man. "But this is the perfect number. It's comfortable in here and everyone has an opportunity to see and talk to the players."
Following the dinner an auction was held with a variety of items, including helmets and footballs signed by the Mountaineer players and coaches, going to the highest bidder. Those monies will be added to those from the ticket sales in hopes of topping last year's total of $39,800.
"We'll be close," continued Flanagan. "We had 28 corporate tables at $1,000 apiece and there were six other tables so there is $34,000. If the auction does what it normally does then we should be around last year's number."
The big winners on the night? That was the kids as all monies raised go toward the myriad of programs sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club as well as the time they were able to spend with the players.
"I just want to ask Tavon (Austin) how hard it is to make it to that level," said Leary, who is planning on playing football at PHS in the fall. "He isn't much bigger than I am so I am interested to find out what he did so that I can try to make it."
Who knows, maybe the name Kendell Leary will be one of those introduced when the 21st annual Steak & Burger Dinner takes place in 2017.