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Food, Football and Fun: Boys Town Teacher Tony Jones Hosts Regular Tailgates for Hundreds

Joey Butler, left, and Tony Jones grill burgers to serve to students and fans before the game. MEGAN FARMER/THE WORLD-HERALD

​​​​This article is written by Jon Nyatawa, World-Herald staff writer. It was posted on Omaha.com on November 25, 2016.

Tony Jones stood behind the grill and peered out at a green space that would soon be full of familiar faces bustling about as they filled their plates before a Boys Town playoff football game.

There were bins packed with burgers and brats. A table loaded with cookies. A tub of ice-chilled bottles of water. And plenty of Boys Town staffers ready to serve and direct traffic.

"Um-hum. All right," Jones said as he nodded his head on a gorgeous late-October Friday. "We're ahead of the game." He checked over the scene once more. "Yeah, we're ahead of the game."

Jones has confidently claimed this before. Almost every week, actually. His buddy and right-hand man, Joey Butler, confirms this.

But the moment they start relaxing, then suddenly the line is backing up and the picnic tables are filling up. Somewhere between 200 and 300 people tend to show up — Boys Town students, teachers and their families, graduates, friends, police officers, opposing fans, and essentially anyone else whose nose could recognize that classic barbecue aroma.

But Jones won't ever complain. This tailgate idea was something he and some colleagues came up with a couple of decades ago.

They're Boys Town Family-Teachers — living on-site with their own families while they provide a stable home environment for six to eight students per family. They're always looking for ways to create new experiences for the kids, who may not have been consistently exposed to a community setting before stepping foot on the Boys Town campus.

What's better than food, football and fun?

"It gives us the opportunity to meet and greet, an opportunity to get together, meet new people and have a good time," Jones said.

This has been the routine for every Boys Town home game Butler can remember for 20 years. Rain or shine. Pleasant or frigid.

Jones and Butler started setting up the grill around 2 p.m. on this particular afternoon, a little bit earlier than usual. They were mostly done cooking by the time folks started arriving three hours later. Even then, they were always on the ready, quick to offer a bottle of water to a thirsty kid while they closely monitored their stash of meat.

Meanwhile, the place was coming alive.

Music emanating from the football field's PA system echoed off the nearby buildings. The hip-hop beat at one point inspired a couple of girls to start a quick dance-off. A half-dozen footballs were punted and tossed about. A couple of kids dribbled a soccer ball through traffic. The basketball court hosted a shooting contest, a dribbling battle, a two-on-two bout, and then a four-on-four game. Some families sat picnic-style underneath trees. Others simply crowded onto a picnic table and started sharing stories.

"We've got kids and families from all walks of life here," said Jeff Peterson, Boys Town home campus director. "It's a tremendous organization to work for. We try to make events out of everything. We believe that's part of the healing (nature) of this place."

They've grilled out for a couple of volleyball games this fall. Dinner on Thanksgiving Day will be a momentous gathering in all of the Boys Town households. Christmas is just as big.

Jones is glad this tailgate is part of that.

He remembers it starting as a backyard party, right next to the football field. About six Weber grills were lined up side by side, with kids and parents bringing their own items to be cooked. But it's grown every year since.

And on Oct. 28, a picture-perfect evening before a Class C-1 playoff game between Boys Town and Fairbury, Jones was having a blast. He was stationed behind his grill, cherishing every moment.

"That's why I'm standing here, right by the grill, because you can see everything," he said. "And I ​like to see all the smiles on the kids' faces. This is fun."​