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Team dinners make for net gain

Heading into the state playoffs, Trojans dig into Sunday dinners

The guests are expected in 10 minutes, and Judy LeCoq and Karen Aker wonder whether their sons, not them, should be the ones setting up for dinner.

Jeff LeCoq and Scott Aker are good guys, good students and good athletes on the Wilson High baseball team É but help in the kitchen?

'Yeah, right,' Judy LeCoq says with a laugh.

'But that's a good idea,' Karen Aker says. 'Maybe that's how it really should work?'

Team dinner on Sunday nights has become a staple for the Trojans this spring. Team members and a few selected parents Ñ the ones responsible for preparing the food Ñ enjoy it as a way to close one week and start another.

'At least I know my son gets one good meal a week,' says Barb Dunn, whose son Evan is a sophomore pitcher.

Dinners are generally barbecues, with hot dogs or hamburgers as the main course, but the parents have put forth lasagna and salmon for the 16 players. Salmon went over well.

Coaches don't go

Wilson's coaching staff, led by longtime head coach Mike Clopton, stays away, which allows the players to relax and bond as people, not just as players.

'It's fun, there's usually a basketball hoop nearby that we can play on or a football, something to do after dinner,' Nick Hedgecock says.

'It's a chance for us to talk among ourselves and just have fun,' Jeff LeCoq says. 'So, it's OK that the coaches aren't here.'

Parents marvel at how their sons stay so lean with all the food they put in their bodies. As dinner starts, the hungry players descend on taco fixings in pack form and then disappear outside to enjoy the sun on the awaiting patio.

They talk about school gossip, haze their sophomore pitcher by making him into a servant, and generally enjoy the day.

'All right, did anyone break training this weekend?' says junior Kacy Fairfax, who is something of a team leader. One player admits he did.

Eventually, they descend again on the kitchen for sundaes. Junior Sean Setzer, who has been working on a Rubik's Cube, helps himself to two bowls because he is already trying to add weight for football season. He's the Trojans' quarterback.

'My coaches want me to add weight,' he says, smiling because he knows that generally means adding muscle. 'They weren't specific about what kind of weight.'

Parents bond, too

Team dinner night has been a success with parents and players, although it hasn't guaranteed that the players will like one another. Two Trojans, members of the pitching rotation, were booted off the team for fighting with each other two weeks ago, an incident that caused the team to struggle in recent games.

'We're still in a state of grief over that,' Jeff LeCoq says.

Team dinner night may have helped the Trojans reach the state playoffs, which begin for them on Monday. The dinners are organized by Thelma Nakata. Her son, Dylan, plays for the team.

The parents, who keep to themselves during the dinners, are happy to participate and not have to disguise themselves in order to hang out with their kids.

'My son says it's bad luck when I show up for a game,' one mom says to a chorus of nods. 'So, I had to dress up and sneak in just to watch him play one game.'

Mark LeCoq, an attorney, says the value of team dinner night goes well beyond simple nutrition and team chemistry.

'It's just like with parents coming to games,' he says as the first of the players return to the kitchen to thank the hosts before leaving. 'The kids stopped looking up into the stands to see if you showed up back in Little League, but they know you're there.

'Our kids might not get it right now, but the value of this is big-time down the road. It's a part of the path to them turning into quality people with character.'