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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
MEDINA TOWNSHIP - In Medina County, what started as a family's annual Thanksgiving morning backyard football game has morphed over the decades into a significant charity fundraiser, the Meadows Turkey Bowl.
Thursday's event netted an eye-opening $245,000, the highest total yet.
While the family games date back 27 years, it has been over the last 12 years that the event turned into a charity. The total taken in and given out so far: a staggering $1.2 million.
That's pro league stuff.
"We turned what was a backyard football game into a fundraiser to help the neediest of the neediest through St. Vincent de Paul," said Mike Meadows, one of the game's founders.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul dedicates itself to ending poverty; the Meadows Turkey Bowl proceeds go to the Medina chapter.
The Meadows family's big backyard off Hood Road in Medina Township hosts the event. Four teams face off in two preliminary games, played simultaneously on two fields starting at 8:30 a.m. The winners move to the championship and bragging rights for a year. The event includes a mandatory pre-bowl draft night fantasy football experience as well.
To be eligible for the games, each player is required to raise a minimum of $2,000. One participant, Medina plumber Bill Biegel, raised $45,000 this year.
"To give you perspective, 11 years ago we raised $850. And that number has kind of rolled and rolled and rolled," Meadows said. "A year ago, $230,000. The year before that, $190,000. We're hitting staggering numbers. ... And what's amazing about this effort, we do it with the help of 40 ordinary guys who make this happen."
Thursday's games were played on a cold, drizzly morning, with snow still on the ground in some places.
The scale of the event can be measured in more than dollars, too.
There was live music from a mix of local high school band members and alumni. The games had referees. Two fire pits helped take some of the chill off of onlookers.
A large tent protected trays of hot breakfast foods, including an egg and sausage mixture, potatoes and a homemade blueberry dessert. There were donuts, coffee, hot chocolate, juices and more. Meadows said there was enough food to feed 200 people - just about enough, judging by the size of the crowd.
The games technically were "touch," but more accurately described as "two-hand shove," and played with intensity as players jostled, pushed and often slid on the slick ground.
"Today's a celebration of what we call the game within the game," said Meadows.
The players go to family and friends and ask for donations.
Anyone who donates $100 gets tickets to a Cleveland Indians game and to a Cleveland Gladiators Arena Football game.
Larger donations, including corporate sponsorships, come with other packages, Meadows said. None of the money raised pays for the Thanksgiving Day event.
This year's game was dedicated to the memory of Beth Mowrey, who played a significant role in the fundraising efforts and who died in August of cancer.
All players wore jerseys with "Beth 27" on the back. Her husband, Alan, was among the players this year.
A portion of this year's bowl game also will be going to help the family of the late John Bigelow, Meadows said. The 2015 Turkey Bowl was dedicated to Bigelow, who died this year, leaving behind five children and his wife.
Thirty percent of this year's Turkey Bowl proceeds will go to help people with cancer, Meadows said.
"We are going to make a special effort to help the needy who have cancer," he said.
The fundraising takes place in a short time - starting around Nov. 1, Meadows said.
"It's all for a good cause," said Dave Earhart, 59, who played in the first game 27 years ago and remembers at least one game being played in a blizzard.
"It's pretty cool to see the effort," Earhart said. "They understand the game within the game. It got to be a competition to see who could raise the most money. ... It's truly a blessed thing."
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