Two trucks arrive at different times in a Vienna shopping center stocked full of holiday Christmas trees.
Within minutes, the heavy fraser firs are safely unloaded by eagerly-awaiting members of the James Madison High School baseball program.
For 25 years now, that has been an early-morning routine and a community-service tradition provided by the players and coaching staff to help the Vienna Lions and Optimist clubs. Once the trees are unloaded, they are set up for sale.
This year, the off load occurred the mornings of Nov. 27 and 28 and involved some 35 mask-wearing players from Madison’s varsity and junior varsity teams.
“If we didn’t have those boys doing this, we wouldn’t have trees or we would have to hire people to unload them,” said 90-year- old longtime Lions club member and former president Jess Jessup, who began working the tree lot in 1975 and continues today. “They have been doing a great job and service for so many years. They stay safe doing it, and help each other with the big heavy trees.”
The biggest load of trees came for the Lions Club Saturday morning, Nov. 28, via an open-bed truck, stopping near the Walgreens store on Maple Avenue.
The offload, which had a handful of seniors on top of the truck handing the trees down to players waiting below, began at 7:15 a.m. and took the players just 38 minutes to empty.
(The team record is 29 minutes.)
“It was a championship effort by them,” Madison head baseball coach Mark Gjormand said. “The Lions and Optimists are great people in this town. It was a little different unloading this year [because of COVID]. It took a little longer, but we got it done.”
Madison senior player Tyler Schoeberlein was one of the players on top of the truck cutting open nets around trees, then lifting and handing them down to players on the ground.
“It was harder work than it looked. I was gassed having to wrestle with those trees,” Schoeberlein said. “I was one of the players on the ground the last three years watching people up top, and it didn’t seem like they were working that hard. But I guess I learned otherwise.”
Madison senior Colin Tuft was working the trees for the first time.
“It was fun and hard work, a 100-percent good experience,” Tuft said. “They put us to work. I think we did a really good job. We were efficient.”
Gjormand said the project works as a dual purpose for his players.
“Many a Madison baseball player over the years have been on top of that open truck unloading trees,” Gjormand said. “It’s a great tradition, a good team-building and community thing for us, and the players love doing it. The clubs are unbelievably grateful for our help.”
The project is optional for the players, but Madison senior James Triantos explained otherwise.
“The players made it mandatory among ourselves,” Triantos said. “It was really hard work, actually, picking up and stacking those trees My back was a little stiff the next day. It was great experience getting everyone together. We all got to see each other working fast and hard.”
Madison alumni often help out as well. Former Madison player Chris Polymeropoulos, a freshman catcher at Roanoke College, participated in the Christmas tree unload for four years, and was hoping to do so again this fall.
“It was a great way for us to give back to the community and it was a great team-bonding experience,” Polymeropoulos said. “The seniors would lead the way, getting inside or on top of the truck and get an assembly line going. We would unload quickly, efficiently and safely. Then we’d go somewhere afterward for a team breakfast.”
Jessup, a former Little League and Babe Ruth coach in Vienna who also used to take care of the Madison baseball field, was one of those on top of the truck unloading trees in the days before the Madison players began helping.
“I got hurt up there a couple of times; it’s hard work,” he said.
The regulation baseball field at Vienna’s Nottoway Park is named Jessup-Savia Field, after Jessup and Sam Savia.
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