They needed a snowblower to see where the end zone and 50-yard line were Thursday morning, but the cold and snow didn’t stop 48 amateur football players and their friends from enjoying the annual Turkey Bowl hosted by Mike Meadows at his Medina Township home on Hood Road.
“I just think the Turkey Bowl is the best thing in the world,” Northeast Ohio native Dave Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who now serves as president of Thomas More College in Northern Kentucky, is a friend of Meadows, and said he got involved in the Turkey Bowl to give back. Money raised by players in the Turkey Bowl goes to the St. Vincent De Paul Society.
“These guys are out here serving others on Thanksgiving,” he said. “There was no other way to celebrate the holiday.”
Now in its 24th year, the bowl started with small donations from participating players. By Thursday morning, players had raised more than $158,000, shattering last year’s record of $126,000.
Those participating in the Turkey Bowl are required to raise at least $1,000, but the more fundraising players do, the more they can help their team. Each year, four teams compete. Teams pair off for the first game and the winner of each advances to the second round and final match.
Team captains are among the most competitive because the money they raise helps them “draft” their team on Thanksgiving eve.
Monopoly money is used to indicate the real dollar amount captains raised for the charity. At a draft party Wednesday, bidding wars ensued over the most sought-after players. Once a player is drafted, the money that player raised also goes to the team to be used in the draft.
“I used to be drafted because of my skill. Now they just draft me for my money,” Jim Judson said.
Judson was one of the top fundraisers this year, bringing in a single donation of $8,001 from former Browns fullback Tommy Vardell.
Judson said he met Vardell a few years ago and they struck up a friendship. When Vardell played for the Browns in the 1990s, he lived in Medina, and he wanted to give back to the community.
“He asked me what the highest donation was so far, and it was $8,000. So he beat it and made a donation in my name,” Judson said.
Other players also pulled in donations from family and friends.
Bill Biegel, another team captain, raised $25,000 on his own. Biegel, who owns a plumbing business, said he asks customers, friends and family to donate in his name. The donations this year came in the form of 230 separate checks.
“I got everything from $5 to $500. I tell them every little bit helps,” he said.
Jim MacLellan and Eric Engelke, who own a Brunswick business, raised $22,000 between them to become co-captains of a team. MacLellan, in his fourth year as a participant, said those who participate have to be dedicated to raising money for St. Vincent De Paul above all else.
“That’s the reason we’re all here is the fundraising,” he said. “You’ve got to be just as excited about this game within the game,” he said.
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.