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It is a universal truth that if you coach a high school athletic team and if you have a competition at an away site, the kids all want to stop to get something to eat, always on the way home and sometimes on the way there.

If the contest was fairly local – from Carpinteria to Paso Robles – I never stopped.

It usually takes at least an hour for the kids to get their food and eat and I preferred they get home and have dinner with their families and get started on their homework. But on the longer trips to Los Angeles and such I relented. Over the years we have found many, varied places to eat.

When heading south, a regular stop was at the McDonald’s in Ventura off the Seaward exit. That stop was a tradition for 30-plus years. Eventually a Subway went in, giving us an extra choice and then, to my delight, an In-N-Out Burger was built in the same vicinity. While I dumped the kids at McDonald’s and Subway I ambled over to In-N-Out Burger for a much better "animal-style" meal.

On the way home we stopped at McDonald’s at the Kanan Road exit in Agoura Hills.

As the years went by many new and tasty places joined our list of eateries.

One year a kid on our cross country team, Jeff Blystone, wanted to stop at Freebirds in Santa Barbara near the college. He only had a vague idea of how to get there, but after stumbling around for awhile we eventually found it.

It serves Mexican food. Jeff recommended burritos. I ordered a grande. You go through the line like at a Subway and tell them what you want in your burrito. By the time I was finished, my burrito was a foot long with a diameter of 5 inches. It was magnificent and took me four days to eat.

We would stop at the Souplantation in Camarillo. This was a good choice because everything was the same price as it was a buffet and the kids could eat as much as they wanted.

In Monrovia, when we spent the night for CIF cross country prelims and finals, we ate at the Claim Jumper or the Old Spaghetti Factory.

It was here I discovered the kids had no clue how to pay for food at sit-down restaurants. If they ordered something that cost $10 they would give me $10 towards the bill. The concepts of tax and tip were foreign to them. These meals usually cost me a lot of my own money to make sure servers were properly compensated. I did discover Claim Jumper pies so maybe it was worth it.

We ate at The Habit a couple of times. Santa Maria has one now and it’s pretty darn good.

We ate at a Gyro place in Fillmore on the way to Santa Clarita and Mt. SAC. Gyros are awesome. A whole new culinary experience.

When CIF prelims were held at Arcadia, I would take a walk down to In-N-Out and buy burgers for my assistants and two very good coaching friends, Kit Myers and Jesse Davis. It became a tradition.

But the greatest eatery of all we discovered about 15 years ago-Tommy’s. There are several scattered all over Southern California. I didn’t know for 20 years but there was one in Cerritos just a few blocks from the stadium at Cerritos College where the CIF track finals were held.

Tommy’s became the go-to place for me. They bury everything in chili. You can get your food without chili but what’s the fun in that?

I loved it because the burgers tasted exactly like those I had as a kid riding with my dad on his truck driving routes.

The place was in Porterville and I have been searching for that taste my whole life. Tommy’s was the answer. They also have big, thick, meaty fries. So if there is a Tommy’s nearby, that is where we go.

My good friend Mike Hartman and I have tried to go to as many as possible. There’s a new one in Ventura. We have been to those in Arcadia, Barstow, Henderson, Nevada, Valencia near Magic Mountain, and even the original one in Los Angeles, plus a few others. Our goal is all of them before we die. (Although the food may be what kills us).

So while all of the trips are mostly about athletic competition, a special side benefit is finding and enjoying great places to eat.

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Greg Sarkisian has coached high school athletics on the Central Coast for more than three decades, spending 30 seasons as St. Joseph's head cross country coach and 35 seasons as the school's head track and field coach. At St. Joseph, Sarkisian's track and field athletes won 24 individual CIF championships under his tutelage. He also taught mathematics for 38 years at the high school level and for 27 years at Allan Hancock College.

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