Stonington — Five days before the historic Westerly-Stonington rivalry will play out on the football field, eight teammates and their supporters crowd into Mel's Downtown Creamery in Pawcatuck Saturday afternoon for a competition of a different kind.
"They act like they don't want to do it," says Steven Burnside, Stonington High School's assistant coach, looking on at the growing crowd, some munching on waffle cones. "But the second the competition starts, it all changes."
It's the second annual Ice Cream Bowl, a fight of stamina and stomach, where 20 percent of all sales are donated to the school's football programs, a food drive is held for the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center and the Johnnycake Center, and eight teenage boys consume an unfathomable amount of ice cream and toppings.
Owner Mel Goggin says the previous owners of the creamery did a one-off version of the relay back in 2008. She hopes to make it an annual tradition.
There is one small change Goggin made this year: the competitors sit at a table in a small park across the street from the creamery on West Broad Street. They held it on the sidewalk right outside the storefront last year, when projectile ice cream coated the windows and the crowd edged dangerously into the street.
"We don't want it to be more exciting than it really needs to be," she explains.
"Is everyone ready to kick this off, or what?" she shouts to the packed room.
As they herd across to the park, Goggin wheels out the goods behind them — sprinkle-topped cups and cones and, for the final challenge, the creamery's Big Kahuna: one monster of a red bowl for each, brimming with seven scoops of different flavors and topped with marshmallows, chocolate chips, cheesecake pieces, graham crackers, Sour Patch Kids, sprinkles, and a more than generous helping of whipped cream.
Bucket, just in case
And the survival tools — a jug of water with cups, and an empty bucket on the ground. Just in case.
The rules of the four-round relay are simple: Pour your own water if you need it, and finish your ice cream. All of it. If you can't, each team gets one "hail Mary," allowing the next in line to finish their round as well as the next.
The boys shrug off their jackets in preparation.
"I hope you guys did not eat breakfast today," she tells them.
And they're off.
Round one is a waffle cone filled with scoops of cake batter and peanut butter cup flavors, coated thickly in sprinkles.
The first relayers — Aaron Murphy of Westerly High School and Austin Myers of Stonington High School — have their faces lowered in deep concentration, and the sprinkles fly.
For the next half hour or so, the screams, chants, cheers, and even strategizing rarely cease.
"He's catching up, Austin, let's go!"
"Come on, devour the thing!"
"Go from the bottom!"
Next, Stonington's Ryan Francis and Westerly's Jack Patten — Francis slightly ahead thanks to Myers' quick work — tackle a sundae topped with caramel, peanut butter and peanut brittle. Francis gets to work mashing it into a soupy, drinkable mess, scooping it into his mouth by the sticky fistful.
Round three is Teddy Farrell of Stonington vs. Charles Elliott of Westerly — the least messy, as they down malted milkshakes dotted with cookie dough, wincing through the brain freeze and the choruses of "Get it down!" "Swallow!" and, of course, "Chug, chug, chug!"
And then, the grand finale, as AJ Cordeiro of Stonington and Jack Patten of Westerly take on the Big Kahuna.
"Don't spit it back on the bowl!" someone admonishes.
The Stonington fight song breaks out. Cordeiro, struggling, pours a cup of water into the bowl, swirls it around, brings it to his face and tips it back.
Finally, it's all a bit too much. Cordeiro wants his hail Mary, and Farrell steps up to the plate, the table coated in melted pools and bits of stray cereal.
After a while, Farrell has had enough, too — but as Goggin reminds them, there is only one hail Mary allowed.
"If you win this, I'll buy you ice cream!" someone shouts.
Another false alarm: Minutes after a brief incident in which he leaned over the bucket, Teddy raises his hands in victory, but there are still some bits at the bottom of the bowl. He has to clean it.
Next to him, Elliott, who has taken over for Patten, his shaking fingers coated in melted ice cream, tips the bowl back once, and again, and again, and again, racing to catch up.
But it's too late. As Farrell torturously scrapes up the dregs of the Big Kahuna, it's all over.
Despite the second loss in two years, Elliott said it was all well worth it, and turns to an inquiring friend.
"It tasted good," he tells him.