WINTER GARDEN The West Orange High football team is hungry.
The Warriors are hungry to put their program on the map as one of the best in the state of Florida — and maybe in the nation.
They’re hungry to go farther into the state playoffs than ever before and to contend for a state championship.
They’re also hungry in the literal sense. After all, accomplishing the things listed above can make for hungry work.
Fortunately for players and staff for the West Orange High School football team, the West Orange High School Football Quarterback Club has them covered. The Quarterback Club, which serves as a booster club for the Warriors’ freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams, performs a number of behind-the-scenes activities to aide the program. It fundraises to help with costs for equipment and uniforms and other things not covered by the school.
The group, which consists of volunteers, also is responsible for providing team meals on Thursdays and Fridays during the season. On Thursdays, when the JV team plays, that can mean feeding more than 200 hungry players and staff. On Friday, when only the varsity team is in action, that number is closer to 100.
The meals are usually donated by local businesses and restaurants, which are sought out by Quarterback Club members such as president Stephanie Gutierrez Torok, vice president Robert Garman and fundraising chair Kelly Price — among many others.
Some members have a son who currently plays football for West Orange, but not all. Whatever their ties to the program, the end result are meals on Thursdays and Fridays that have become an important bonding time for the program.
“They do an unbelievable job — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Warrior varsity football coach Bob Head said. “It really, really brings our team together.”
Gutierrez Torok, who has had two sons play for WO, says the meals have evolved as more businesses became involved.
“It’s changed over the years. When my older son played, we were doing good just to get pizza. (The Quarterback Club) used to cook (for the players) a lot,” Gutierrez Torok said. “You want to get the community involved. That’s the whole idea, really.”
Through the Quarterback Club, the football program has put together a long list of sponsors. Many Winter Garden area restaurants have supplied or donated meals — including Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Jersey Mike’s and others. Some of the restaurants who have donated or supplied multiple meals include Blue 42 Sports Grill and Winter Garden Pizza Company.
“I said ‘you know what, it’s time to give back a little bit,’” said Michael Ellis, the general manager at Blue 42.
The involvement of local businesses showcases a growing bond between the program and the local community. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that over the course of the past three years the Warriors have also been very good on the field and have made the state playoffs each season.
“We’ve got more people contacting us saying, ‘We would love to be a sponsor,’ because of how (the team) is doing,” Price said.
While many of the businesses and restaurants participate as a form of philanthropy, sponsoring the program obviously has benefits — especially when the Warriors are prone to draw crowds north of 4,000 spectators regularly. For a restaurant like Blue 42, for instance, that link to the program can help drive business after games and, on occasions when a game is televised, even during them.
“It’s built a rapport and now a lot of people know — we’ll turn on the West Orange game when it’s on television, and the people love it,” Ellis said.
The meals are donated by businesses but are served by Quarterback Club members or other volunteers.
On Fridays, volunteers from First Baptist Church of Winter Garden bring desserts and help serve the meal. Volunteers arrive as early as an hour before the players to set up and make sure things are in order.
It is something that has not gone unnoticed by the players. Senior linebacker Jeremy Samuels looks forward to the meals each week and says he and his teammates are very appreciative of the hard work that goes into them.
“To be honest, we’re just super blessed to have such great support,” Samuels said.
Want to get involved?
To get involved with the West Orange High School Football Quarterback Club, or to become a sponsor of the Warriors, contact the organization at [email protected].
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].com.