Jumping, shooting, scoring and winning, all are things fans of Virginia Commonwealth basketball have become accustomed to. However, it's not just the hours of practice and countless sessions at the gym that make the student athletes successful on a nightly basis. Some of the answers can be found in the food. Rick Sinsabaugh (pictured, right), the director of catering at Siegel Center, has more than a little experience with this.
Sinsabaugh feeds both the men and women's basketball teams before every home game, in addition to serving many other varsity sports at VCU. Sinsabaugh, who is responsible for all catered events in the Siegel Center and the Sports Medicine building, has worked at the facility for 12 years. Previously he worked at Virginia State University and before that owned restaurants. The company he works for, Cateraide, has had a contract with the Siegel center since it opened in 1999.
Aside from sporting events, Sinsabaugh caters anything that involves meals including concerts and independent corporations. Recently Siegel Center hosted the Virginia Democratic Convention, which was in the afternoon and accommodated a 2,000-person reception, a 1,000-person reception and two 500-person receptions. Then there was a seated five-course dinner for 2, 500 people with full service and a bar. However, Sinsabaugh said the highlight of the year for him is always basketball season.
"I really enjoy working with the teams," Sinsabaugh said. "I do game meals on the evening before the games for the men's team and then we do an afternoon pregame meal four hours before the game. We do pregame meals for the women's basketball team also four hours before game time."
No matter what the common perception of young athletes can be, Sinsabaugh says, he has experienced nothing but gratitude.
"The athletes are very appreciative," Sinsabaugh said. "The teams are just really fun for me to work with. I really enjoy the relationship I develop with the players, too."
Those who observe Sinsabaugh with the team agree that his presence goes beyond serving food and into the territory of welcomed familiar face.
"Rick does a great job and he knows what the guys like and he has a relationship with them," Kyle Getter, Director of Basketball Operations, said. "Guys love it. They have a saying that they say at every meal, 'Rick did it again.' It's almost one cue as soon as the first guy takes a bite someone says it."
Working with the teams has also increased Sinsabaugh's love of the game as a spectator.
"I'm in the room, I'm kind of like a fly on the wall, so I get to listen to them talk and get some of the inside information," Sinsabaugh said. "It makes me take a lot more interest in the teams and how they do. Before I took this job, I've always enjoyed college sports but I never got super involved like I did with teams here. They're your friends out there on the court and you want to see them do well."
On a typical game day the preparations begin up to 12 hours before the Rams take the court. Sinsabaugh starts setting up and readying for meals at 7:00 a.m., or as soon as rooms become available. Throughout the day different corporate events will sometimes take place at VCU, so room availability isn't always guaranteed early. The Founder's Room houses the Ram's Club in it every home game. Members of the club come in an hour and a half before the game for a reception with heavy appetizers and beverages. After the fans leave to go down to the stands, the catering staff cleans up the food tables from the first half and starts setting up for the second, which features lighter snacks. The club members return at halftime.
Simultaneously in the Commonwealth Room, which houses supporting members of the athletic department during the game, the same thing is done.
The men's basketball team, gets fed four hours before game time, so if the game takes place at 7:30 p.m., the meal commences at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Jason Lucy, an executive chef at Cateraide, helps Sinsabaugh and seconds the fact that there is never a moment too early to start readying for large meals.
"On game day we begin by making sure we're getting sauces together, prepping pasta, getting fruit and vegetable trays together," Lucy said. "Making sure everything is cooked and labeled properly in order to get it to the proper destination."
All of the food prepared is measured out by its weight, a method that Cateraide has decided works best to eliminate waste. He says the biggest satisfaction is the knowledge that everyone receives a healthy meal, and also, watching a Ram's victory.
"They win whenever we feed them," Lucy said.
While Lucy sees things from the cooking perspective, Sinsabaugh's specialty is serving.
"I do the men's team, I'm down there going through the buffet line, serving them," Sinsabaugh said. "Then pick that up, clean it up and by the time that is picked up I have staff that start to arrive for the other hospitality room. So we always have a minimum of four meals going on for each basketball game."
In January there are many more corporate events. Sinsabaugh said rival Old Dominion University travels well, and usually does their own reception at the Siegel Center, as well as William and Mary. Corporations around the city, law offices, and different corporate venues come in and rent spaces hospitality suites.
Sinsabaugh said for bigger games like Old Dominion University, it's not uncommon for him to have eight or nine events going on at one time.
"It can be a little hectic. It's all good stuff," Sinsabaugh said. "It's gotten easier over the years. I think anyone that does catered services, if they tell you they don't lose sleep worrying about events that are coming up, they aren't telling you the truth."
However Sinsabaugh said he's much more relaxed now that he was in the earlier days of catering.
"I know I haven't forgotten anything major like forgotten to order the plates or silverware for a meal. I know I always cover that stuff," Sinsabaugh said. "The little things may slip through the cracks and you discover them as they come up for the event. I think anyone, the longer you do your job the more comfortable you become."
And comfort is something Sinsabaugh says he loves most about working at Siegel. The staff and players fit together more like a family than a band of colleagues.
"Men's basketball I deal with the most, I get to know those players better than everyone because it's like I'm sitting down with them," Sinsabaugh said. "I'm in their home when they're eating dinner. I'm standing on the side and they're talking about the food, talking about the game and talking about who's dating who. It's like I'm invited into the family which is very cool."
He stresses that the true victory for him is working somewhere that puts the emphasis on team, and not just on game days.
"Everybody works very hard here to put their best foot forward for the community. It's really just a team, and it's a big team effort," Sinsabaugh said. "Couldn't do what I do without the cooperation of a lot of people from my company and from this building and the athletics department."
Story written by VCU Athletic Communications Student Assistant Nan Turner