They are a booster club in principle. In reality, they are a family.
A family that shares laughter and fun, a family that supports and stands by each other, and while many teams have their booster clubs, the North Penn football team’s version of a booster club – the 12th Knight – is so valued that coach Dick Beck refers to it as his team’s secret weapon.
“I’ve told people for years now that the secret to our success has been the 12th Knight,” he said. “Whatever we’ve needed – whether it’s been a piece of equipment or something nutritionwise, they’re quick to step up and say, ‘Let’s get it done.’ I tell them they’re our ace in the hole.”
On a rainy Thursday night, less than 48 hours before the Eastern Final, a group of parents have gathered in the Sandwich Mill – the local sandwich shop owned by Kathi Moore, the mother of team manager Mary Moore – to prepare the team’s weekly meal.
John Dzurko, the secretary of the club, has just completed cooking up a batch of corn on the grill when he brings up the little matter of the smack-down challenge of several weeks ago – a mashed potato cook-off between Dzurko and Moore that is now known as the ‘Mashed Potato Challenge.’
“I crushed you like a bug,” he said to Moore. “Wait until you see how disappointed they’ll be when they see I didn’t make them today.”
The gloves are off.
The women in the kitchen – who outnumber Dzurko 7-2 – immediately come to Moore’s defense.
“Her mashed potatoes are a lot better than yours,” one said.
The players know better than to choose sides.
“I think they’re both the same,” senior captain Trey Farmer said. “I have to stay neutral in that fight.”
It’s a ‘fight’ in name only. This is good fun for everyone.
It’s tough to find Tina Stoll in a crowd.
The diminutive president of the 12th Knight is quiet and unassuming, but talk to anyone remotely familiar with the team’s booster club, and it’s hardly a secret that this is the woman that makes it happen.
“She’s the heart,” Dzurko said. “Think of a human body without a heart. It’s not there, and that’s the way she is. She has everybody on speed dial, she has everyone’s e-mail. She’s the focal point of making sure things get done.”
Stoll – the mother of three sons – served as treasurer for two years when son Pete came on board, and then she moved up to president. Middle son Andrew is a senior captain, and Eric – the youngest – is a junior.
“When I went to the first meeting, I really thought they paid her,” said Helene Davey, mother of senior quarterback Justin Davey. “I thought – this has to be a fulltime job, and they said, ‘No, she’s just a volunteer.’
“It’s a fulltime position. Just everything to do with the team – the fundraising, directions to the game, just everything that goes on, she’s on top of it. There’s so much you wouldn’t think of. I can’t even imagine anyone would want to step into that spot.”
How much time does Stoll invest?
“All of her time,” her son Andrew said. “She’s doing it every day. While we’re at school, she’s doing stuff for the 12th Knight. When we get home from football, she’s still doing stuff, sorting out pride pack orders and stuff.”
“She’s probably at school every day,” Dzurko added. “It’s a 12-month thing. When the season is over, we’re trying to figure out how to put the programs together for next year, how we’re going to do fund raisers, planning the banquet in January.
“There’s always something going on. It’s Tina that is the drum beat that just makes it happen. I think we’d be a shell of ourselves without her.”
Beck echoed those sentiments.
“Literally, she’ll give me a call and say, ‘What do you need?’” the Knights’ coach said. “The best part about it is there are no strings attached.
“There’s no, ‘My kid’s got to do this’ or ‘How will this help my kid?’ It’s all about how does this help the team. She just wants us to do well. That’s what you get out of it.”
Joe Godio roams into the Sandwich Mill’s kitchen where his mother, Kathleen, is part of an ‘assembly line’ making pork sandwiches. The sandwiches are the least of the senior safety’s concerns as he tries to figure out a way to confiscate a few chocolate chip cookies before dinner.
John Dzurko places seven cupcakes on a plate – six for the offensive linemen and one for an honorary lineman of their choice. “They’re not fast enough to get them,” the father of offensive lineman J.D. Dzurko said with a laugh.
It doesn’t take long for the players to make easy business of the sandwiches, corn, green beans and risotto cakes, and after the meal, Brandon McManus – who helps plan the weekly menus - searches in the freezer until he finds some vanilla ice cream that serves as a perfect complement to the cookies he has broken into pieces.
In another corner of the kitchen, sophomore Dom Taggart cannot – no matter how hard he tries - convince Diane West that he deserves one of her bags of homemade chocolate chip cookies that she is distributing in a seemingly non-discriminate manner.
It’s clear this feels a whole lot like home to these players.
“This is great,” Farmer said. “The food is amazing. You get all you want.”
“They do a great job,” senior captain Sean Baldwin said. “Not just for the nutrition but bringing the team together before a big game. It’s really important for team unity, just bringing us together.”
Dick Beck knows a good thing when he sees one, and the 12th Knight Booster Club is a very good thing.
The veteran coach begins to enumerate some of the group’s contributions to the football program.
“They pay for the banquet,” he said. “They purchased three video cameras for videoing games and video systems that help with highlight tapes.
“Every game they pay for a pre-game meal. They provide fruits and vegetables for pre-game and halftime of every single game.
“They purchased a Gatorade package where we have an unlimited supply of Gatorade, and they also provide Gatorade coolers and cups and the squeeze bottles.
“They do the web site, and they do the program. At the end of the year, they put together a book of articles and include every single article ever written about them and put it into a huge book of memories for the kids.
“It’s phenomenal. If we win championships, they buy gift packets for all the kids.”
No one, it seems, takes the contributions of the 12th Knight for granted.
“They really do take it to the limit, just getting us stuff and bringing us together as a team and making us a family,” Baldwin said. “They just really support us, and it’s great having them behind us all the way. That helps us out more than anybody knows.”
“It’s really nice to have,” Andrew Stoll said. “They do so much for us.
“It’s pretty special. As soon as we leave here, we won’t have it any more when we’re in college. We’re going to miss it.”
Kathi Moore wouldn’t have to give up her Thursday nights and the use of her Sandwich Mill for the football team. She wouldn’t have to be baking batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies. And she certainly wouldn’t have to be involved in a mashed potato cook-off
But when youngest son Shaun graduated in June, Moore had a hard time imagining life without the team dinners.
And since her daughter Mary – a junior – is a manager, Moore decided to stay on board.
“Shaun really wanted me to do it,” she said.
Beyond that, Moore enjoys the camaraderie.
“It’s good karma,” she said. “I just love them, and I love doing it.”
Beck admitted that Moore has gone well beyond the call of duty to continue to allow the use of her business establishment for team dinners.
“For her to offer this is outstanding, and the parents do a great job,” he said. “For them to be able to get together and have this meal and have that camaraderie that goes a long with that – it’s something I have to admit I enjoy going to as well.”
The players leave as quickly as they arrived, but before they do, many stop to give Moore a hug and a thank you, and then Moore is joined by her co-workers on this night – Kathleen Godio, Helene Davey, Diane West, Susan McManus and Darlene Taggart for a quiet meal after hours in the kitchen.
The work of Tina Stoll and the 12th Knight is never done, but no one seems to mind a bit.
“We’re the caretakers of the kids,” Dzurko said. “We can’t play, we can’t practice, we can’t do any of that stuff, but we can help them be prepared.
“We don’t do anything unusual, but it’s that day-to-day stuff – keep them in a rhythm, allow them to stay focused, just the little stuff.
“This group – there’s nothing pretentious. If something needs to be done, Tina puts out the call or the e-mail and says, ‘Hey, we need to do this.”
This week there was a call for some early-morning volunteers on Saturday to make pre-game turkey sandwiches.
“She sent out the e-mail, and within 30 minutes she had all the people who were going to be there,” Dzurko said. “That’s just the way this group is.”
Saturday’s pre-game meal will consist not only of turkey sandwiches but also pasta and gravy – the gravy prepared by the Taggarts’ grandfather – Rudy Fedele.
Seated at the head of the table in the now deserted dining room at the Sandwich Mill is Tina Stoll. Another successful Thursday night meal is over, and it’s time to relax – albeit briefly.
Stoll - who admits that serving as president of the 12th Knight has turned into a fulltime job - laughs when she’s reminded about the standing joke that when the players aren’t at football, they’re at the Stolls’ home.
“There’s usually anywhere between 10 and 20 of them at our house, depending on whether it’s early dismissal or Friday night after the game,” she said. “It’s not because of my great cooking. We have our basement set up pretty nice with a TV-game room, and I always make sure there are sodas and cookies.”
Stoll wouldn’t want it any other way.
“All the boys – they’re like my own kids,” she said. “I guess it sounds corny, but they’re like my own sons. It’s like one big happy family.
“I have a lot of help. We have a really good support system. The booster club has a lot of very involved parents. It’s like family time – all the moms are here and the kids. It’s a time to relax before the big game. Kathi has been very generous about letting us use her place, and all the moms come to help.
“We have all become really good friends, so that’s another benefit.”
And if it seems like they’re a family, they are. The 12th Knight – a booster club in name, a family in reality.