Building more than gingerbread houses

It’s Christmastime, and you know what that means.

It’s time for the annual gingerbread house-making competition among the Grafton High School girls’ basketball players.

I heard about the contest when I asked a few players if the excitement of Christmas was a distraction in their Dec. 21 win over West Bend East. They said no, but they were anxiously awaiting the gingerbread house competition the next day.

Those structures often make for good photos, so I told coach Matt D’Amato I would attend.

I barely placed my camera bag on a table in the commons when D’Amato slowly approached. I had a feeling I knew what was coming.

He asked me to be one of the judges.

What was I going to say? This was the same week my column headshot wore a Santa hat.

This could be fun, I thought. A little lighthearted holiday joy. Ha!

You perhaps think making gingerbread houses is harmless fun. I can tell you after witnessing such construction that it can be about as intense as the Black Hawks’ full-court press.

Ideas were flowing. This was 45 minutes of the teenage creative process in action.

One trio of seniors — Maddy Wille, Ava Wilmanns and Ashley Weir — even built their house behind a big pole so nobody could see it. Of course, I had to saunter over and check it out.

One side of the house had no decor, while the other side was as festive as could be. But the three had a reason. One side, Weir explained, was that of the Grinch and the other of Santa Claus.

The two faced off, and Santa killed the Grinch.

Santa, who was represented by a single gumdrop, triumphantly stood on top of the house.

I noticed he was rather skinny.

“He didn’t lose weight,” Wilmanns told me. “He just does basketball.”

Hmm. Perhaps I should take up basketball.

The display included scuffle marks from the grand battle, and someone played a Grinch tune on their phone to complete the scene.

Another house had Santa crashing into the roof, with just two red gumdrop legs sticking out. That, naturally, was hilarious, except Wilmanns said she did that last year and had photo evidence to prove it.

“It started as fun and got real competitive,” D’Amato said of the gingerbread houses.

The front of one house included a jingle bell that someone said “we found on the floor a minute ago.”

A few groups modeled their creations after assistant coach Greg Capper’s house. One had a cat out back and another had a photo of his wife that someone said didn’t look like her.

“You know what, we worked with what we had,” a player said.

The selection process was tough, and we didn’t have a separate room in which to debate like those legends on that master cooking show.

Two coaches and I still managed to reach a unanimous consensus on the top three. One of the Capper homes stood out, as did the Santa vs. Grinch (Of course, I’m a sucker for a good story.)

The winner was an exquisitely decorated home with perfectly clean lines and a simple yet logical design.

Freshman Abbey Grisar and sophomore Allison Viesselmann put the home together, which apparently was supposed to be Grafton senior John Olmr’s house.

Grisar did the icing and Viesselmann put on the decorations.

“I was surprised,” the pair said in tandem after learning they won.

“I just made it look clean and colorful, and not too much,” Grisar said.

“Less is more,” Viesselmann added

Olmr, she said, may be surprised when he sees his home in the paper, “but I think he’ll love it.”

Spoiler alert: The home doesn’t at all look like Olmr’s. He doesn’t have gumdrops and frosting on his roof.

The top three winners in the contest received gift cards which, from the enthusiasm I saw that day, I can only hope weren’t used to purchase anything with caffeine.

D’Amato has a cause for the construction. He said he tries to do one non-basketball activity per month to build camaraderie, and it looks to be working. Despite the competitiveness, from starters to reserves and seniors to freshmen, the players all giggled their way from design to the finished product.

Nobody, fortunately, ate their homes and the 2,880 calories and 16 grams of sugar in each — not to mention the germs from multiple fingers perfecting their art.

And if you don’t believe in Christmas miracles, get this: Nobody asked the judges for a recount.

• In other basketball news, a shout out to the Grafton pep band for a jazzy “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and a clap-along “Sleigh Ride.” Well played.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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