If you ask newest "member" of Genoa football fold Leeann Dufendock, she’ll
maintain that she is the lucky one who's walked away with this season's biggest prize.
A 1987 Genoa graduate and second-year member of the Genoa Athletic Boosters Club, Dufendock hasn't struck it rich via the 50-50 drawing.
For one night at Comet Stadium, Dufendock was officially offered her very own official sideline towel, handed her very own water bottle filled up by the program’s ever-energetic water boys, and perhaps the most special of all…was gifted a hallowed stretch of real estate in front of the Comets' bench so she could be closer to her son, Seth Dufendock, a junior running back and linebacker, on a Friday night.
She could see all the hard-hitting action when she served as "Coach-for-a-Day" for Genoa's '09 home opener against Woodmore thanks to a very special contest she won at this year's "Goal Post Gala" fundraising event.
Her winning bid of $400 allowed the booster secretary to shadow Coach Mike Vicars for the night.
"Actually to be quite honest with you, I didn't really have my own towel,” offers up "Coach" Dufe. "It was actually just a towel that was dropped out on the field, and somehow, I guess I just ended up with it.
"But being the mother that I am," she continues, "I believe it was (senior running back and defensive back) Connor (Wendt) who came over off the field at one point with a cut, and right away, I grabbed my towel, and started cleaning it up, and wiping away the blood.
"The only word I can use to describe the whole sideline experience during that game is 'amazing'," reflects Leeann.
"I mean, I don't want to go as far as to exactly say it can get intense down there, because we all know that Coach Vicars, and the boys can get loud, and that that's the way that football is. But what I saw is that Coach Vicars really does love all these boys the same. And that he works so hard to try to teach them to play hard, to live right, and to ‘be the best’ in everything they can, like the Genoa saying goes. And that is what Genoa football is really all about.
"But just to be down there with them all instead of sitting way up in the bleachers, you get to see how the coaches, the players, and really just everybody involved are really such a big, close family," adds "Coach" Dufe.
"When a good play happens, they're all there celebrating together. If a kid is down on himself, they're all thereto pick him back up, whether it's a senior patting a freshman on the back, or a freshman picking up a senior, and right on down the line. And yes, a few times a play would come close to coming my way while I was standing on the sideline, but there was no way I was going to get hurt. Not with my boys surrounding me. They were all there to protect me."
She got her very first taste while leading "the Hive" (a pre-game "pump-up" ritual and show of team solidarity before entering the field of battle) at the request of senior quarterback Matt Bassitt and other playrs.
Dufendock was even reveling in the glow of the traditional team meal which goes down Fridays prior to games.
"It's really all business. During the meal, it's all very low-key, and it's all whispering among the boys, and talking in low voices, and listening to music through headphones, and just really getting into that mindset for the game. There's no goofing around. No giggling,” Dufendock said.
She had the chance to sit in with coaches in the defensive "war room.”
"I know my evens and odds now," she jokes.
The grand-prize was getting to hang with Coach Vic, in the coach's office.
"You start to realize just how much time these coaches put into these boys, from laundering their uniforms, to watching films, and preparing films for the kids, to just being there for them as friends. It's just amazing," she praises.
Then, she learned at halftime, in the Genoa Athletic Complex, all the players are fed a sweet snack in the form of mini-candy bars to keep their energy levels up for the second half.
"I've already had one dad who said he's going to try to outbid me next year, and I just said, 'Hey, good luck. Because I'm bidding again'," laughs the veteran Genoa Utilities billing manager heartily, "but pretty much everywhere I go, I get called ‘Coach’ anymore. And people are always asking me, 'What was the experience like?' And the only way I can answer is 'Amazing.' 'Wow'."
"These boys are all brothers, and that's the best word I can use to describe this group of Genoa Comet football players," dotes Leeann proudly.
She may be known as "Coach" Dufe in local gridiron circles, is perhaps better known affectionately as "Mom" by a core of Genoa players.
"That's the group of them, where it's become a tradition now, to hang out at my house with Seth on Saturday nights.
"They hang out together, they talk, they eat, they play video games, they watch UFC," she adds of her extended "family," "and sometimes on Sunday mornings, I get up and make breakfast for them, and sometimes they're all gone before I ever even wake up. But it's all okay. It's all good. Because I have a home, not a house. It's well-lived-in, as you can see, and all my boys know my door is always open to any of them."
"Time goes so fast these days," she reflects. "We all really need to enjoy the times these kids are in high school, and still in the community, and are representing Genoa on the football field. No, they're not perfect kids, no one is. And they're going to screw up. But I feel blessed to have stood by them on the sidelines, and to have them sitting at my house every Saturday night. They're a good bunch of boys. A great bunch of brothers."