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Peach cobbler? With ice cream?” says Kelcey Doss, a junior at Mason High School, as she fist-bumps the air while waiting in a serving line with other cheerleaders and football players. It’s nearly 11 p.m. on a Friday in October 2018, and the Mason Punchers have scored yet another victory on their way to a state championship. Win or lose, though, everyone makes a beeline from the stadium, nicknamed the Puncher Dome, to a postgame event called fifth quarter at the Mason Church of Christ.
Since 1969, teenagers have met inside the church’s fellowship hall for camaraderie and a hot meal. Tonight, the hall is decked out with tablecloths, party ware and fresh carnations in the Mason Puncher colors of purple and white. Doss carries her plates to a purple-topped table and plops down with five other girls. “I’m going to eat my dessert first,” she announces.
Seated next to her, fellow cheerleader Grace Perlichek ponders a question in between mouthfuls of a sloppy Joe, piled high with corn chips. “Why do we come to fifth quarter?” she says. “Because it gives us something to do after the game.”
“And we can hang out,” adds Doss, who’s downed the cobbler and moved on to her sloppy Joe.
“Plus, we get free, delicious food,” concludes Kendra Munsell, another varsity cheerleader sharing the table.
Across Texas, similar fifth quarter events shift into noisy gear once the Friday night lights go out. Each one’s different, but most are hosted by volunteers from community churches who want to provide a positive and alcohol-free place for teens to go after home football games. Food is the big draw, but many offer basketball, bonfires, pingpong, video games, music or door prizes.
“Our fifth quarters bring the community and churches together and provide a safe alternative for our young people after football games,” says Laura Snyder, a member of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Salado, about halfway between Waco and Austin. “Our churches have hosted them for at least 10 years. New volunteers always step up and keep the tradition going.”
Exactly when and where the tradition started is difficult to pin down. Try to trace who originally came up with the name “fifth quarter,” and it gets even dicier. In Blanco, west of Austin, Florine and Harold Lord, members of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, both now in their 90s, recall hosting their first after-game parties in 1971. “Back then, we hardly had any kids in our Methodist church,” Florine says. “There was nothing for them to do, either. So we invited schoolkids to our church after home football games. They’d eat and have fun. If we could keep one child from being hurt or killed, it was worth it.”
These days, ministers and church representatives with the Blanco Ministerial Alliance coordinate fifth quarter schedules. Volunteers with participating churches host students. “Our goal is to provide a safe and spiritual place for our students after
ballgames,” says Carlos Cloyd, pastor with the Blanco United Methodist Church, which is a member of PEC. “We want them to hear a message, have fun and get something to eat.”
In Mason, the tradition started in 1969, when members of the Church of Christ decided teens needed a place to go after home football games. “My husband was a church elder,” recalls Mary Hemphill, 85. “First, we fed them at our house. Then we cooked steaks at the church after the game. For 49 straight years now, we’ve cooked good stick-to-your-ribs food for the kids at the church.
“It doesn’t matter if they win or lose the football game,” Hemphill adds. “We celebrate the kids.”
Through the years, fifth quarters have spread across Texas. In Palestine, southeast of Dallas, local churches have hosted fifth quarters since at least the early 1980s. “I graduated in 1984 from Palestine High School, and I remember going to them,” says Danny Rodriguez, administrative pastor with the Evangelistic Temple in Palestine. “This year, 17 churches partnered together and hosted separate fifth quarters for students at Palestine Junior High and Palestine High School.”
After home games, kids met at their respective school gymnasiums for food and games. “Our churches and school district worked together for the benefit of the kids,” Rodriguez says. “Our goal was to connect with kids and develop relationships with them. That way, if they ever need help, they know pastors they can call on.”
In Eldorado, south of San Angelo, members with the First Baptist Church budget for their fifth quarter ministry. The money goes toward pizza rolls, taquitos, cheese dip, chips, sodas and lemonade. Kids can just hang out or play games, like pingpong and foosball.
“We host about 40 students after home games in our basement youth room,” says youth minister Jason Crookham. “Fifth quarters give us a way to support our kids and invite them into our building so they’ll feel more comfortable. Adults can then share time with them and let them know they’re welcome here.”
After home games in Carrizo Springs, in South Texas, teens hang out in the fellowship hall at the First Baptist Church. “We’ve hosted fifth quarters for six years,” says youth minister Jeff Janca. “All kids are welcome, and we have them register and give an emergency number just in case. They start eating right away, and we let them chill down for 30 minutes. Then we have a worship time followed by games or activities.”
Back at the Mason Church of Christ, Corky Mueller ladles seasoned beef from a jumbo roaster oven onto buns while other volunteers divvy out corn chips and shredded cheese. “This is a way of giving back to our community, and I’m a 1958 Puncher graduate myself,” says Mueller, who spent his afternoon cooking up 50 pounds of hamburger meat. “Mason has good kids, and there’s not a one who doesn’t tell us ‘thank you.’ ”
Mueller and his wife, Brenda, are among a dozen church couples who sign up annually to prepare fifth quarter menus that feed 80–100 students. Pulled pork, Mexican stew and sliced barbecue rank among kids’ favorites. “I came up with tonight’s concoction earlier today,” Mueller says. “Frito pie seemed too bland, so I decided to serve it on buns. We’ll see what happens. The kids may throw it back at me.”
Misty Martin, a member of Central Texas EC, who graduated in 2001 from Mason High School, moved from Austin back to her hometown five years ago. “I had no intention of ever living in Mason again, but the people and community drew me back,” she says during halftime at the Puncher Dome. “Fifth quarters are part of that. I remember how the food was always awesome. We didn’t have a winning team my senior year. We lost bad, but the food at fifth quarters always made up for it.”
Losing wouldn’t be a problem in 2018. The Punchers finished an undefeated season by winning the Class 2A Division 1 state championship in December—the school’s second football title.
Jim Bob Smith, class of ’95 and a CTEC member, fondly recalls attending fifth quarters. “When you live in a small town like Mason, football is the go-to thing,” he says. “Everyone attends Mason foot-ball games. Afterward, fifth quarters give kids a place to socialize in a safe environment. My oldest daughter, Steeley, went to fifth quarters. Now our younger daughter, Sterling, who’s a junior varsity cheerleader, goes.”
Mason’s close-knit atmosphere impresses district superintendent John Schumacher. “There is a culture here where the school and community expect our kids to do their best,” he says. “With that expectation, they each support them in reaching excellence. Everyone is behind each child.”
Head coach Kade Burns, a 1995 Puncher graduate, attended fifth quarters as a teenager. “My late father, Melvin, was head coach here for 11 years, and he had the most wins in our school’s history,” says Burns, who stepped down from coaching in February, when he was named Mason High School’s principal. “After a game, we’d always rush out of the locker room over to here. Fifth quarters are a fantastic way for kids to hang out and share stories. They contribute to the overall culture of our school and give the kids a real sense of community.”
Over in the dessert line, Ethan Powell, a varsity football player, sums up the night while waiting for a bowl of cobbler topped with ice cream. “It’s neat how everyone comes to this church, no matter how the game turned out,” says the high school senior. “They’re always so supportive of us, and they make such great food. That was the first time I ever had a Frito pie hamburger, and I was not disappointed.”
Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, a member of Pedernales EC, lives in Blanco.