Longhorn wrestling team-hosted benefit spaghetti dinners have long been a much-anticipated highlight on the Rim Country social and sports scene. This year, they will take on a new aura.
The heightened atmosphere is because fans, boosters, parents and coaches can begin dinner evening revving up for the most prestigious tournament on the Longhorns’ home schedule.
The dinner will be held 5 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 and the Tim Van Horn Invitational tips off about 1 p.m. the following day in Wilson Dome. The tournament continues on Jan. 24.
The Van Horn annually attracts some of the state’s finest wrestling teams from all school size classifications — 1A to 5A.
With PHS counselor Don Heizer serving as tournament director, it has developed a reputation as one of the most organized, well run and competitive tournaments in Arizona.
But more about that later, let’s get back to the benefit dinner.
This year, it will be held in the Payson Elementary School cafeteria. All previous benefit dinners were held in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria, but the site had to be changed this year because of the ongoing construction at RCMS.
Another change is the project has received, for the first time, the sponsorship of the Tonto Apache Tribe.
“That’s great for us,” Heizer said.
Tickets, which are available at the door or from any PHS wrestler, are $3 for children, $6 for adults and $20 for a family pass which is good for immediate family members only.
Most every Longhorn coach, fan, parent and player has enjoyed one or more of the meals, and fondly remembers the good times associated with the annual benefit.
Heizer recalls the origins of the spaghetti dinners, more than two decades ago.
“Dennis (Pirch, former PHS wrestling coach) and I were looking for ways to earn money so the kids could go to Disneyland during the Christmas vacation,” he said.
“We came up with the spaghetti dinners. They earned good money, and we’ve never stopped doing them.”
For the first dinner, Heizer and Pirch enlisted the cooking expertise of Pine Realtor Mark Fumusa, who had two sons on the team.
His two sons have long since departed PHS, but Fumusa continues to play a huge role in hosting the event.
On dinner day, Fumusa and his six volunteer assistants will begin in the early morning hours preparing and cooking a spaghetti feast for the more than 500 people expected to attend.
The cooks will use about 110 pounds of spaghetti noodles, 120 pounds of ground beef, four gallons of homemade salad dressing and 100 pounds of flour for homemade rolls prepared by Jacque Lee, who has had two sons pass through the mat program and a third on the current team.
As delicious as the homemade meals are, they have become much more than a lip-smacking Italian dinner.
“It’s a time and place where we can all gather and enjoy the fellowship of one another,” Heizer said. “It’s the type of things we can do in a small town.”
The benefit also produces money the wrestling team uses for travel, camps and to purchase equipment not available in the school’s cash-strapped athletic budget.
Heizer estimates the dinners now earn more than $2,000 annually, thanks to donations from Bashas’ and Safeway and the sponsorship of the tribe.
“Without the money earned at the dinners, we would not be able to do a lot of the things for kids we now do,” Heizer said.
The coach also sees the dinners as events that benefit everyone.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “The team earns the money it needs and the people get a great meal at a low price.”