STANFORD, Ill. — Illinois high school football teams have entered the final weeks of playoffs, but one team already has a championship title.
A combination of online fan voting and in-person judging selected Olympia High School as the 2023 winner of the IHSA Pork and Pigskins contest sponsored by the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
“We were super excited. We take a lot of pride in our pork chops,” said Bryce Hoffman, who has taught ag at Olympia High School for nine years.
The FFA grilled chops at Olympia Spartans home football games are a tradition that stretches back over decades.
“One of our FFA alumni members and parents, Melvin Springer, in the 1980s, and the FFA teacher at the time started grilling pork chops for the football games. It was always FFA students and FFA alumni,” Hoffman said.
Olympia FFA alumni supervise the cooking at every game, but Hoffman said students handle the grilling and sales.
“It is completely done by students under the supervision of the alumni. But the alumni don’t have to do much more than supervise. The kids want to dive in and get the work done,” Hoffman said.
The FFA will sell some 400 to 500 pork chops at a typical home football game. Hoffman said that the grill is going at every Spartans home football game and they also serve their chops for at least one boys and one girls home basketball game.
The Olympia FFA has around 170 members, in a high school student population of some 500 students. Hoffman said he never has a shortage of volunteers to grill and serve.
“They always want to come out and do the grilling. Sometimes I’m like ‘OK, we have too many,’ but I can’t turn kids away when they want to help,” he said.
Students typically get started grilling in their freshman year.
“It’s just such a strong tradition at Olympia. They start doing it as freshman and sophomores and they want to keep doing it,” Hoffman said.
Each year, the FFA grilling team has one or two grill masters who lead the group, students who have been working with the grill since they were freshmen. This year, the grill master is junior Reed Naughton.
“He’s been working with the grill since he was a freshman and he’s been to almost every single game, unless there’s been some kind of major obligation. I’ve got a crew of six or seven kids who almost never miss a game and then there are another 10 to 12 who are there at least 50% of the time,” Hoffman said.
The pork chops are purchased from the Mackinaw IGA. Evergreen FS supplies the propane for the grill.
Hoffman said one secret to the Olympia’s success is Custom Pork BBQ Spice.
“I really think our seasoned salt is pretty important. It’s the same one that the Illinois Pork Producers Association uses at the Pork Patio at the Illinois State Fair. That is the key and it’s the best seasoning salt you can have for a butterflied pork chop,” he said.
The grill that the team uses was purchased using memorial money from the family of an Olympia FFA alumnus.
The grill itself is a stainless steel dairy milk bulk tank. Students can prepare 75 pork chops every 10 to 12 minutes.
The grill is on a trailer, so the FFA grill team can take their championship chops on the road.
“We have been requested to grill pork chops for different events and we accommodate when we can,” Hoffman said.
The Pork and Pigskins contest is now in its third season. The inaugural winner in 2021 was the Normal Community High School “A-Train” concession team, and Hall High School in Spring Valley took home the 2022 title.
Forty-eight schools around the state participated in the 2023 Pork and Pigskins contest. The initial round of voting for the Savory 16 is done online.
Once the Savory 16 are selected, judges travel to those 16 schools to sample the fare in person.
Olympia FFA will receive the IPPA Pork and Pigskins Golden Spatula trophy along with a prize package from the pork association.
The Savory 16 included:
• Duroc Region — Ottawa, Princeville, ROWVA and Woodland.
• Berkshire Region — Bureau Valley, Cambridge, Orion and Stillman Valley.
• Yorkshire Region — Burlington Central, Iroquois West, Reed-Custer and Woodstock.
• Hampshire Region — Carlinville, Normal Community, North Mac and Olympia.