December 21, 2011
Usually, when an analyst says that a team was hungry for a state title, they mean that in a figurative sense. In the case of the Burke County (Ga.) High football team, that phrase meant something quite a bit more literal: The players were actually hungry.
As reported by CBS News, one of Georgia's newly crowned champions made a quantum leap in performance in 2011, and its coach has little doubt that better nutrition -- mostly in the form of simple access to more food -- was a big part of the improvement.
"We're probably like most small towns in America right now -- you know, we're struggling," Burke County football coach Eric Parker told CBS. "So, bringing food home and putting it on the table for a lot of our people, you know, that's a big deal.
"We had kids who literally by Tuesday had to be removed from practice because of the intensity and the amount of energy they were having to expend."
There was a reason for that: For many of Parker's athletes, the only meals they would eat all day were school-subsidized breakfasts and lunches. After Parker raised the issue with Burke County school nutritionist Donna Martin, the nutritionist discovered the school could apply for a federal program called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
With that federal funding, Burke County suddenly could feed 500 lower income students dinner for just $3 per meal. No sooner had the in-school dinners started than the team's performance began to turn around on the field.
"A lot of people -- they was hungry, tired, and sleepy sometimes," Burke County defensive lineman Jessie Bush told CBS of the team before many of its members began receiving dinners at school, too. "We started getting better [with the additional food]. You didn't hear nobody coming out and saying they were tired or hungry."
The rest, as they say, is history. Burke County rolled to a 14-1 overall record and, eventually, a memorable 28-14 victory in the Georgia Class AAA state championship game against Peach County (Ga.) High.
"They just imposed their will on us," Peach County coach Chad Campbell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Burke County's title win. "They made the plays they had to, and we just didn't make enough of them tonight."
"I'm not going to cut the nutrition program and what it did for us short at all," Parker said. "I thought it was a big part of our success."
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