Players in the annual Meadows Turkey Bowl again shattered last year’s record by raising $190,000 for charity. Now in its 25th year, what started at a Thanksgiving game among friends has morphed into an annual fundraiser.
This year, 30 percent of the proceeds will go to the family of Peter Radke, a Medina husband and father of four who died while saving a girl from drowning at a Lake Erie beach in June.
“I was amazed when we saw the final number (Wednesday) night,” said Mike Meadows, the founder of the event. “The room went wild. It’s just amazing.”
Top fundraiser Bill Biegel asks friends, family and neighbors to help give any amount they can. This year, Biegel brought in $31,000 in donations.
“People are always willing to donate, and this is a great way to start off the holiday giving season,” he said.
At the annual event, players are drafted on Thanksgiving Eve, and the money they raised is converted into “Meadows Money” and used to help bid on top players. The four teams play on two fields at Meadows’ Hood Road property in Medina Township, and the winners play each other for the championship. The losing teams play a consolation game for third place.
This year, there’s an extra perk for players: The champion team and the winner of the consolation game will face off and showcase their skills in a short game during halftime at a Cleveland Gladiators game.
The team led by captains Al Melchiorre and Jake Poole came in first and will play the team headed by captains Terry Blascak and Alan Mowery at a Gladiators game.
The team led by captains Bill Bigger and Dave Vespoli came in second.
The teams are competitive, but Meadows reminded players Thursday to be sportsmanlike and fair. He pointed out the Turkey Bowl jerseys this year had the bowl logo on the front but Radke’s name on the back.
“Remember we’re playing for that name on the back of the shirt, not the front,” he said.
Radke’s wife, Michelle, and children, Hannah, Brynn, Owen and Isaac attended the turkey bowl as did Radke’s mother, Sue, and brother, Matthew. Matthew spoke only a few words before the start of the game but smiled and thanked everyone for their donations.
Last year, the Turkey Bowl raised $158,000, and Meadows said it feels good to beat that record, but it’s not his main concern.
“We try not to be too focused on the number. Helping people is big, and that’s the main goal,” he said.
This year’s donations may have received a boost from incentives offered to donors through a partnership with the Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators, who offered tickets to games. Alan Mowery, vice president of franchise development for the Gladiators joined the players’ roster this year and helped raise money.
Meadows said he’s actively been recruiting players, and hopes to foster a new generation of Turkey Bowlers.
One new player this year, Richard Sumlin, has football experience. The 2008 graduate of Medina High School played college ball at the University of Findlay and played professional ball for the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was released from the team in August, and the Lakewood resident decided to come home to Medina to play in the Turkey Bowl.
“I was more than happy to step up and play. It’s such a good cause,” he said.