Members of the Vinton-Shellsburg football team and coaching staff discovered just how good a catfish caught in the Cedar River can be during the team’s traditional camp-out Friday night at the Womochil farm.
The menu for the evening, was similar to that of most Viking campouts: Sweet corn the players picked themselves, “Hobos” made with grilled potatoes, carrots and onions, after the players joined Gene Womochil, the coach’s dad, in digging them from his garden, and fish.
This year, the catfish that players and coaches enjoyed came from the Cedar River. Several miles downstream from the Womochil farm, player Nathan Harrelson caught about 30 catfish near Palo, yielding about 20 pounds of fillets. Coach Womochil and his partner, Kellie Voss, prepared the batter for the fish, which Viking parents Stu and Pamela Overton deep-fried.
The result was a delicious fried fish that could compete with some of the best-known restaurants, said one of the adults there.
Coach Jim Womochil began bringing football players to the farm a quarter-century ago, when he was the coach at Williamsburg. That tradition continued when he became the Viking head coach a few years ago.
The goal: Team building. Getting players to work together off the field.
And a camp out at the Womochil farm gives them plenty of opportunity to do that.
“I will run the pitchfork,” says Gene, after watching a few players unsuccessfully did carrots, breaking them in half before getting them out of the hard dirt.
Soon, with the help and guidance of the lifelong farmer, the players were tugging large carrots from the garden.
The carrot-digging followed the corn picking. Players rode in pickups from the camp site to the sweet corn patch, where they picked as much as they planned to eat. A couple of players decided that the corn was so good that cooking was not necessary, shucking and eating it on the ride back to the camp site.
Back at camp, sitting near an old cabin the family had used decades ago, the players cut potatoes and carrots. The 30 or so players had set up camp along the river, arranging tents around camp fires or even securing one to the bed of a pickup. A few tried their hand at fishing, catching a couple more small catfish. Others played catch, or fetch, with Rocky, Womochil’s black lab. Rocky loved the attention and quickly earned a reputation for his unwillingness to release the football once he had it in his mouth.
Along with the players, the VS coaching staff joined the team at the camp. One of the new assistant coaches this year is Anthony Church, who teaches Physical Education at Shellsburg. Last year, Church was the head coach at Alburnette, where the team played in a brand new stadium in his first game as coach last season.
“He’s a good addition,” says Womochil.
Also continuing to coach this season, as a volunteer, is Don Lyle, who officially retired at the end of the 2016-17 school year, but offered to help out again with football this year.
“We are just happy to have him in any capacity,” said Womochil.
The Vikings prepare for the season with many very good athletes, says Womochil. Size, however, is an issue. “We’re not very big,” says the coach. Also, the team lost senior running back Justin Coots to a knee injury at the Central football camp in Pella, where he tore his ACL and meniscus. He will have surgery soon and will miss the entire season.
“It’s a tragic loss for us,” says Womochil.
The Vikings open the season at Center Point-Urbana on Aug. 25. The football team will join the rest of the VS sports teams for the Fall Blow-Out on Thursday, Aug. 17
See more campout photos HERE.