Orange tickets and green tickets passed through his hands as swiftly as if he were checking on entrance ducats to a ballgame.
Travis Ball, 19 years into volunteering for the annual Cody Lions Club Turkey Day event, was a conduit for prize winners to obtain frozen turkeys and hens.
Since last Saturday’s carnival-like competitions were geared to giving away 1,300 turkeys and 1,500 cornish game hens for Thanksgiving, it means Ball has been involved in the transfer of more birds than Cody has people.
By far. He just has never estimated how many.
“I’m scared to count,” he said.
A large truck parked on the games grounds in the Bob Moore Memorial Parking Lot was a portable turkey and hen holder.
The Lions make it easy to win. Players could shoot at the strings holding turkeys aloft, throw darts, shoot free throws, flick-a-chick, throw footballs and play horseshoes.
While crowds swirled and families played, all roads led to the truck. This was the reward station. Six men dealt with the birds, four in the doorway rationing out the turkeys and hens in exchange for those tickets, and Ball and Larry Johnson on the ground, handing out the spoils in white plastic bags.
Except for the biggest winners. Anyone who arrived at the distribution center with several turkey and hen winning tickets was handed a cardboard box with the goodies inside.
Liam Gallagher, 12, won a game hen early by making free throws. He didn’t shoot at turkeys, but shot basketballs to be paid off in turkeys. It was a good start.
How did he do it?
“Practice,” Gallagher said.
Dominick Glass, 7, won three hens, plenty of food for the family. Yes, he said, with a big smile, he was proud of himself for becoming a bread-winner by throwing footballs. Could be someday he might be taking snaps for the Cody Broncs.
The truck was the pulse of the operation, at a slight remove from games – playing, eating snacks and an MC on a microphone. In the end, all participants wanted to find their way to the truck because it meant they were winners.
“This is the happy spot,” Johnson said.
Turkey Day is a ritual in Cody. Youngsters are brought by parents. High schoolers still come, with friends. Longtime residents cruise for the fun of it to see neighbors and to observe the action.
Kris Jensen and wife Darlene came to play and to win their main Thanksgiving course.
Kris thought he finally had a winning shooting strategy and his plan paid off with a turkey. Darlene won a hen in the flick-a-chick.
“We are dialed in for Thanksgiving,” Kris said.
Standing near an open-topped, steel-mesh trailer used for recycling cardboard, Darlene joked with officials, asking if she could win a turkey by climbing the side, jumping in and then jumping up and down.
The official response to that idea was: “You’re the turkey.”
Stella Hall, 2, was being carried in mother Kelsey’s arms when she was suddenly handed a turkey.
“She smiled at me,” Johnson said of the little one and his rationale for the giveaway.
Kelsey Hall’s other daugher, Adelie, 13, had already won a turkey and the birds were piling up. They would not go to waste, Kelsey said, all scheduled to be on the menu.
“We have a big family,” she said.
Derek Barsness traded a fistful of winning tickets for a box of turkeys and hens.
“I need help,” he said at first. “I should have made the kids carry it.”
The kids, 6 and 4, might become helpers in another way soon enough.
“They want to,” Barsness said of their desire to prepare the birds for a feast. “They like to cook. We’ll give ‘em a shot.”
Children handling Thanksgiving dinner instead of just sitting at the children’s table?
Barsness is a brave man.