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Ann Womochil helps granddaughter Devin and Viking players with the carrots during the camp-out.

Ten miles north of Vinton, near where the Cedar River intersects the invisible straight lines that divide Benton, Black Hawk and Buchanan Counties, and another invisible, more wiggly line divides the Vinton-Shellsburg and Union school districts, is the farm that has for decades grown sweet corn that feeds people in those counties, under the watchful eyes of Gene and Ann Womochil.

On those 400-plus acres you can find sweet corn, of course. And lots of other produce, as well: Potatoes. Beets. Carrots. Onions. Cilantro.

And much more.

But there's one common farm produce item that hasn't appeared on the Womochil farm for years, and for a very significant reason.

The item: Watermelon.

The reason: Football.

Watermelon, explained Gene, while sitting near an old cabin along the Cedar River bottom with his son Jim, and several members of the Viking coaching staff, “interferes with my football time.”

And since the 1980s, football time has been very important for the Gene and Ann and Jim Womochil.

“They haven't missed many games, said Jim, who is now entering his third season as the Viking had coach.

They saw all of Jim's games as a Viking high school player in the 1980s, when Jim was named the 1985 Viking of the Year. They saw almost all of Jim's games as a UNI Panther after that. Gene and Ann missed only two games – away games at Pitt and Northern Arizona – while Jim played defensive back at UNI for three seasons.

Gene and Ann continued attending all of Jim's games when he became a high school head coach, first at Williamsburg, then Cedar Rapids Jefferson, and beginning in 2012, Vinton-Shellsburg.

The couple has traveled to dozens of communities to see Jim's teams play.

But once a year, instead of leaving the farm for football, the Womochils bring football to the farm.

Beginning a decade or more ago, the Womochils invited Jim's Jefferson players for an overnight camp-out at their farm.

Ann still clearly recalls the good feeling the couple has had from the beginning: “The kids all drove down to the river bottom, and within five minutes all their tents were up,” she recalls.

A new tradition was born. Jefferson players camped out overnight all but one summer after that, and in Jim's last year there, a page in the memory book was devoted to the camp-out.

“They even had a picture of us in there,” says Ann.

Football came to the Womochils again on Friday, as the Vikings wrapped up their Football Camp, and most of them – 52 or so – headed to the farm.

“Digging deep and pulling together” on Friday, for a dozen or so Vikings, could refer to how they learned to remove carrots out of the dry, compacted soil of one of the four Womochil gardens. They players laughed at themselves and each other as carrots broke in their hands as they tried to tug them out of the soil.

This is the third year that Vikings have camped there.

The players also picked their own corn. Back at the camping area, Ann taught them how thinly to slice the carrots for the “hobos,” the grilled collection of potatoes, carrots and onions that has been a staple of the camp-outs. Players also washed potatoes and shucked the corn.

Having Jim returned to Vinton also means more time for the Womochils to spend with their grandchildren. Jordan was among the Vikings who camped out; Devin helped with preparing the meal. Both of them have also spent time in the back of the family pick-up, selling sweet corn at Casey's and other sites in Vinton.

Coaches helped cook the fish, corn and hobos, along with Tim Bird, who also brought a cooler full of ice cream treats from his Peppy's ice cream trucks. Logan Merchant handled the deep fat fryer, which cooked the fish – and in Iowa State Fair style – a few ears of sweet corn.

Some players, however, also snacked on less traditional cuisine. A few of the linemen caught snakes and craw dads and took a few bites, although most players said “no thanks” and Coach Womochil said “absolutely not” when offered a bite.

While the players enjoyed the amenities of the Cedar River bottom, the coaches discussed the camp and their outlook for the coming season. While the Vikings have about the same number of total players as last year (59), the roster includes many more juniors and seniors than previous years. The team is all healthy, says the coach. The only summer casualty was one player who had strep throat.

Players are also finishing a new requirement for high school athletes – their concussion tests. As part of an effort to protect players from brain injuries, there is a cognitive test each player is required to take before the season. Part of being cleared to play after a head injury is re-taking that test, which many believe can document potential concussion damage.

Practice begins on Monday, and classes also resume next week. The Vikings will play in the Fall Blowout on Aug. 22 before hosting county rivals Benton Community in the season opener on Friday, Aug. 29.

See more camp-out photos HERE.

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