One thrill that accompanies the start of the school year is the return of sports and the memories forged by those on the field and spectators in the stands.

There’s the cheers from fans elicited by sounds of offensive and defensive players jostling for position on the football field, and the queasy feeling of unrest that hums in the air whenever a soccer player sets up for a penalty kick.

And while schools see both their athletic highlights and blunders displayed on the field, athletes, fans and families alike maintain their pre- and postgame traditions; usually involving something chargrilled with a milkshake playing backseat to bonding.

“Everyone says Cookout is the hangout of Statesville,” co-manager Katy Gregory said.

The 18-year-old recent North Iredell graduate has worked at the Cookout on Turnersburg Highway for nearly two years. She said it was a constant hangout for her and her friends after games, since it offered food and a place to talk, which was a nice contrast to the loudness of the field.

She said she’ll often see the store filled with people after Friday night games, with high school students staying in the parking lot late into the night.

At Groucho’s Deli in downtown Statesville, the wall is lined with various sports jerseys, many from local high school teams. Owner Brandon Sutton said that high school athletics have remained popular as downtown has grown during the past decade.

“Now that there’s a bunch of stuff to do; sports just integrates into it,” he said.

Before a game it’s common to see a large crowd come through grabbing food, Sutton said. But he added that it's people of all ages, not just students, that visit.

Sutton said that several of the people he has on staff at Groucho’s are either high school athletes, or are former players that now go to Mitchell Community College. He also said it’s common to see his employees heading to games after they get off work.

Down in Mooresville, South Iredell High School student Samantha Hartsell will be pulling double duty between working at What-a-Burger and performing on the cheer squad.

She said football season is one of the things that hypes students up as they return to school, and there’s love for every game.

Terri Ilczuk, a What-a-Burger employee since 2016, said she’s seen kids go from high school to college that still make it a point to come back to the vintage-styled burger joint when they’re in town for a game.

“I love that,” she said. “Because it shows you that nostalgic places like this are doing what they’re supposed to.”

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