MEDINA, Ohio – Fundraisers come and go, tweaking formats here and there. But when you are talking about grown men playing pickup football, it’s different. Hamstrings seem a little tighter, players are a little more out of breath, and muscles ache just a bit more each year.
So Mike Meadows’ second goal with the annual Meadows Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning is to ensure younger players join in and give the game renewed energy to keep it going.
As much of a priority as that is for Meadows – who started the annual pickup game in his back yard in 1990 with his brother, John Cassidy and Tom Judson – the main mission remains: To raise money for the neediest of people through St. Vincent de Paul Society.
All of the pay-to-play game’s donations go to the non-profit organization, with 30 percent siphoned for needy folks dealing with cancer for themselves or their children. To assist with that goal, the game is partnering with Akron Children’s Hospital for the first time. Specifically, The Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Akron Children’s Hospital will be involved.
“It’s very gracious. We’re so excited, he’s (Meadows) so excited, it’s going to be a great,” said Alex Shannon, who will play in his first Turkey Bowl this year. “We live in a very, very generous community. There’s so many people connected with this hospital, whether they have been treated here or have a grandkid here. We have many relationships.”
Players must donate a minimum of $2,000 to play, which can come from their pockets or, in many cases, from donations they solicit from the community, friends, family and business customers. And individuals can contribute directly via the game’s website.
“Our mission is to help the neediest of the neediest,” Meadows insists.
The game, which brought in a record $245,000 last year, has raised a cumulative total of $1,284,800. And this is only the 13th year it has been a fundraiser.
When the inaugural game was held in 1990, Meadows was 23 and newly married with no kids. Now he’s 51 and has two sons and a nephew playing in it.
“This year is kind of an exciting year,” he said. “It really is the start of handing the reins to the next generation. The succession plan is in place.”
All the captains this year are “young guys,” as Meadows puts it: His son, Pete, and nephew Sam, plus Frank Warren, Jon Levoy, Brandon Blascak and Shannon.
“(Many) are guys who played in the kids’ Turkey Bowl, and they know the meaning of it and the baton is getting handed off to them,” Meadows said. “The young guys have told us what direction they want to take it, and I’m lending a gentle hand guiding it.”
The handoff also means a few other changes.
“The young guys told me ‘We think it would be more fun to come together as a team in advance of the event’,” Meadows said. The annual draft at Medina Country Club the night before will still be held to determine complete rosters for the four teams, but only rookies will be selected then. So teams will be figured ahead of time.
Each team will dedicate the game to a family dealing with cancer. Players will wear hospital tags of patients on whose behalf they will compete.
“I think it’s going to be an emotional moment,” Meadows said.
The game’s emotion is always there, but so is the competition. And this year, in addition to enticement packages from the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Gladiators, restaurants and businesses, the game has partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every player who raises the minimum amount will receive a private tour of the hall, and the player who brings in the most money will receive passes to attend the induction parade, ceremony and game in 2018.
Each year, Meadows says the goal is to bring in $1 above the previous year’s total, which the game has never failed to do. He sees aging players and the “youth movement” creating a financial challenge.
“We might lose guys who are 50 and who might raise six grand, but we might gain 24-year-olds who are struggling to raise $2,000,” he said.
Some things, though, won’t change about next month’s game. It’s actually a four-team tournament that takes place in any weather. Officials are brought in. Meadows’ wife Connie puts on a breakfast spread under a tent. High school band members play along the sidelines as a bonfire warms fans. Kenny Roda calls the game via megaphone.
And it remains the single biggest fundraiser in Medina County for St. Vincent De Paul.
Anyone interested in playing or donating can visit the website. Games begin at 8:30 a.m.