REGIONAL — Food and football are a Thanksgiving tradition, and nowhere more so than at the Port City Sandwich Co. on the Wednesday morning when the Newburyport High School football team gathers for breakfast before the final game of the season.
This year, host Amesbury High School pulled out a narrow win, 12-7, over rival Newburyport at Landry Memorial Stadium, bringing home regional bragging rights as the winner of the J. Walter Chase trophy, the 2021 champion of the Cape Ann League.
In advance of the game, Tyke Karopoulos, owner of the Port City Sandwich shop, takes great pride in serving steaming trays of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage to probably dozens of members of the team. He clears off the bread trays and turns his popular sandwich shop into a breakfast buffet.
The team breakfast at Port City has been a tradition since 2012, when the boosters asked if Karopoulos would be interested in hosting the traditional breakfast.
For years, the team had crossed the Merrimack River to Salisbury on the morning before the game, where the boosters picked up the tab for breakfast at the old Fish Tail Diner. Karopoulos jumped at the chance, telling the boosters not only would he host the breakfast, but would do it for free, covering the food costs plus his time.
He begins cooking at 3:30 a.m. on the day of the breakfast. The parents of the year’s captain bring in extra tables and chairs for the team.
“It’s the highlight of my year. Football is my thing,” said Karopoulos, who played high school football himself in Somerville and at Northeastern University. Today, he coaches flag football teams when not making sandwiches and says with pride that six of his former flag footballers, including his son, Tyler, a sophomore, now play for the Newburyport junior varsity team.
Since he was a boy, Tyler has helped prepare the breakfast buffet. This year, he got to enjoy it as a player.
The players, who arrived at 6:30 a.m. before heading to school for the Color Day pep rally, appreciated both the breakfast and the attention. As they sat down to eat, they yelled out in unison, “Thank you, Tyke.”
Cole Jones, who came on crutches from an injury in the third game of the year, summed up the team’s emotions. He said, “It lets us know what we are playing for – the community.”