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Normal Community High School is a state finalist in, of all things, pork chop sandwiches

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The A-Train NCHS pork chop concession stand is open for business during a Friday game night.

You probably haven't heard of the state high school championship that has a golden spatula as a trophy. It's the first year for the IHSA Pork and Pigskins championship that recognizes the best concession stand pork chop sandwich.

Illinois High School Association Assistant Executive Director Tracie Henry said the judges who narrowed the field it to the flavorful four were looking for something distinctive and different, because, as everybody knows, there is no such thing as a bad pork chop sandwich.

"We told our judges, if you make it to the final four it's going to be a good pork chop. But what is going to be the most memorable one that you are eating."

Normal Community High School is one of the finalists along with Lemont, Cambridge, and Carlinville.

"There are a lot of stories about the sandwiches. There is a number of different FFA programs that use their students to cook them on Friday nights. Some are done by local pork producers in the area. Some by parent groups. Some are cut thickly. Others have different ways they tenderize or season the pork chop, so it has really been a lot of fun to see the uniqueness throughout the final four," said Henry.

Henry called the NCHS pork chop "phenomenal."

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"They have a group. They call themselves the A-Train that come out to their Friday night football games and really create an experience. It's a cool little trailer they have there. They had a great display the night we were judging. It was just a lot of fun to be there and see the support in their community and the people that work hard every Friday night to make this a memorable extension of that high school football game and the pork chops they cook. You can tell there is a lot of camaraderie with the group that's out there Friday nights making this happen for their fans," said Henry.

A total of 79 schools entered the competition. Public voting narrowed it to four in each region, the so-called "savory 16," and then the IHSA asked judges to use a rubric to pick the finalists.

"We wanted them to look at the aroma, the flavor, the juiciness, the presentation and then also just the after taste of the pork chop they sampled. We had five different criteria and a total of 25 points possible," said Henry, adding there is lots of buzz online — not just people promoting their own school's offering.

"It's kind of listening to the visitors and hearing them talk about where they love to play an away game and looking forward to that pork chop. We have had some people comment about when they have been on the road in the playoffs and they remember where they ate that pork chop two years ago. Or, it's the local communities that cook a meal for the visiting team after the game is over and those schools remember the hospitality extended to them. That has been a lot of fun watching the camaraderie coming through on social media and watching people lift each other up," said Henry.

An online vote all this week (through 8 a.m. Friday) will determine the winner that will be announced Nov. 26 at halftime of the Class 6A Football Championship game in Dekalb.

“This is a neat reminder of the ties that bind," said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. "Big, small, city, rural. No matter the high school, you can find dedicated volunteers who care deeply about what they do. These grill masters are as much a part of the game day experience as the student-athletes, coaches, cheerleaders and band members."

The Illinois Pork Producers Association will award the champion a $500 reimbursement on their pork purchase for next season, a state championship banner, and the coveted Golden Spatula.

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