Correction to This Article
The article misstated the location of the Outback Steakhouse that hosts pregame dinners for the Robinson High School football team. The restaurant is in Burke, not Arlington.

The Whole 10 Yards

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

After 20 minutes spent painting the Robinson High School football field, Mike McGurk already had ruined his third outfit of the day. White paint covered his brown tennis shoes. Blades of grass clung to his athletic socks. His black cotton shorts and blue T-shirt were drenched with sweat. McGurk would have considered changing outfits again, but he didn't have any clean clothes left.

McGurk, the Robinson athletic director, had barely begun his most difficult week of the year, but already he felt like Sisyphus. He pushed a $1,000 paint machine up the field, stopping every yard to bend and paint, bend and paint, before shoving the machine forward again. Finally, exhausted, McGurk shook the sweat off his sunglasses and looked back at his progress. He had only covered 15 yards.

"This will probably take me another three hours," McGurk said. "But at least when I finish, I'll be done with about one-fiftieth of my to-do list."

While Robinson students reveled in their final week of summer vacation, McGurk and several other athletic volunteers sometimes worked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to set up the Robinson football team's home opener against Lake Braddock on Aug. 30. Among other chores, McGurk and his volunteers arranged for police coverage at the game, organized 3,000 individual items to be sold at the snack shop, raised an American flag over the field, hung sponsorship banners, tested the public-address system and edited the football program.

It was a hectic and stressful rush, one that will be repeated this weekend across the Washington area when more than 100 schools host their first home football games of the 2007 season (most public schools in Virginia opened play last week). Even though McGurk had repeated this 75-hour week for five home openers as Robinson's athletic director, he walked around school with a checklist jammed in his pocket, terrified that he would forget something.

"Everything has to be in place, really has to be perfect," McGurk said. "More people will see your stadium and make an impression of the school based on that facility than on anything else. People almost never go inside your school, but everybody sees the field. That's where they see what you're all about."

With that in mind, McGurk spent much of last week standing alone on a field of Bermuda grass, obsessing over hundreds of white lines. He used a metal detector to find spikes planted underground, which designated the Robinson sidelines. Then McGurk outlined the rectangular field grid, sprayed lines across the grass every five yards and meticulously spaced out four rows of one-yard hash marks. By the time he finished painting late on the Tuesday afternoon before the game, McGurk had used more than 25 gallons of white paint.

"Some people look at me, all covered in this white mess, and ask why we don't have a ground crew or something," McGurk said. "But that's not the way it works in high schools. Everybody pitches in on everything."

48 Hours to Kickoff

None of the mothers who arrived just after 7 on Tuesday night had spent much time working at the Robinson football snack shop. They had volunteered to be here because, frankly, the job sounded remarkably simple. How hard could it be to make popcorn? Except now, confronted with a strange machine, a few milk jugs filled with kernels and 500 red-and-white-striped FRESH POPCORN boxes, nothing about this assignment seemed effortless.

"I don't know where to start, you guys," said Linda Stewart, one of the mothers. "We'd better call Ted."

Five minutes later, Ted Kornhoff sprinted through the door of the wooden shack located behind the end zone of the Robinson football field, threw his arms out to the side and announced: "It's okay! Ted's here!"

Kornhoff had volunteered at the shop since his daughter began her freshman year at Robinson in the mid-1990s. It was a story Kornhoff now loved to retell as joke: "My kids have moved on, but I haven't," he said. "I never miss a football game."

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