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A home away from home

AUBURN, Ala. -- Thanksgiving is about family, but for many of the writers that cover the Auburn beat on a daily basis, family can be hundreds of miles away.

The Szvetitz family offer a home away from home for Auburn beat writers during Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, many have found a home away from home with the Szvetitz family.

“It’s an unbelievably cordial, kind gesture ... to open up their home on Thanksgiving, especially with three young daughters,” said James Crepea, who has been covering Auburn the past two years for the Montgomery Advertiser. “I’m truly appreciative of what they do.”

Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Crepea would probably “just be hanging out at his apartment” today if not for the Szvetitz’s hospitality.

“I work with these guys, we’re there all the time,” said Mike Szvetitz, the sports editor of the Opelika-Auburn News for the past 10 years. “What better way to serve somebody than to bring the people who are closest in our lives and what we do into our home.

“It’s not about what we have, it’s about using what we have to help other people.”

Evan Woodbery, who covered Auburn for eight years for the Press-Register and al.com, was the first to experience Thanksgiving with the Szvetitz family.

“I'm pretty sure it started in 2004,” Woodbery said. “Mike and I had just come on the Auburn beat a few months earlier. Mike and his wife Christina were nice enough to invite me over for Thanksgiving dinner because I didn't have any family nearby. At some point between then and now, it morphed into a tradition.”

And what a tradition it’s become. Mike, his wife Christina, and their three daughters Emily (8), Sarah (6) and Molly (2) are expecting more than a dozen guests at today’s Thanksgiving celebration.

They bought the biggest turkey they could find and Christina started cooking, along with some special helpers, on Monday. Their daughters like to help with the cooking and decorating, but they really like the tasting, especially when Christina is whipping up one of the four pies she’s prepared for today.

“They understand it. and why we do it,” Christina said. “They say, ‘Daddy’s friends are coming over because they don’t have family to go to for Thanksgiving.’ I want to give them a spirit of giving and helping others.”

The spirit of giving runs deep in the Szvetitz family. “My mom has always been that way,” said Mike, who started the tradition by bringing some of his college friends home with him during Thanksgiving break. “My best friend from college still comes to my house for Thanksgiving whenever he can, even now, 15 years out of school.”

Mike calls Christina’s stuffing “ridiculously good,” and Crepea already has his favorite dish, although it’s not something that’s traditionally associated with Thanksgiving.

“The cheese dip for the chips beforehand, that is the key,” he said. “You’ve got to get there early. That is absolutely the best dish to have, killer. I don’t know what all she puts in it, but it’s phenomenal. It’s more than just cheese. There’s chicken or shrimp, it is ridiculous.

“You have to fight Mike to make sure he doesn’t have all of it because he likes it so much.”

Woodbery, who now covers Tennessee for the Knoxville News Sentinel, spent many Thanksgivings, and even some Easters and Christmases, with the Szvetitz family. Their daughters consider him an integral part of the family.

“They still ask for Mr. Evan, because Evan was the original and he came every year,” Mike said.

If not for having to cover an away game at Kentucky this weekend, Woodbery probably would have made the trip down to Auburn today. It’ll always be a home away from home for him.

“I think the Thanksgivings really represent why my experience in Auburn was such a special one,” Woodbery said. “I was fortunate to make a group of life-long friends on the Auburn beat. Most of them were guys like me and Mike -- 20-somethings who made the dubious decision to pursue a sports journalism career who were moving to a small city far away from family.

“That's why I think we enjoyed getting to be an adopted member of the Szvetitz family during the holidays.”

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