Pete Meadows, right, tries to elude the rush of a defender in Thursday's Turkey Bowl in Medina Township. Official Mike Eleo is on the left on the rainy morning. BOB FINNAN / GAZETTE
Organizers didn’t think it could happen, but the Meadows Turkey Bowl outdid itself in 2016.
Mike Meadows, of Medina Township, said the 27th backyard football game raised an all-time high of $245,000 for charities this year.
Proceeds will be given to the Medina County chapter of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul and Meadows said 30 percent will be donated to the Mary Grace Foundation of Medina, a group that offers support to cancer patients.
“I’m stunned,” Meadows said. “I thought we’d be lucky to raise $200,000. That’s an incredible number.”
Former Cleveland Browns fullback “Touchdown” Tommy Vardell was one of the donors, giving $15,000. Vardell, who played for the Browns from 1992 to 1995, is now a venture capitalist in San Francisco.
“The game started 27 years ago in my back yard,” Meadows said of the Turkey Bowl, which has raised $1.2 million for charities in the last 12 years.
Medina plumber Bill Biegel raised money for another cause, obtaining $45,000 to donate to the Bigelow family, which was last year’s Turkey Bowl recipient. The late John Bigelow, of Conneaut in Ashtabula County, died last August of cancer after he and his wife had adopted five foster children.
The late Beth Mowrey, wife of sales and marketing executive Alan Mowrey, helped link Meadows to the Bigelow family last year. She left such a profound impression on Meadows that he dedicated this year’s game to her. Players wore “Beth” on the backs of their jerseys and the No. 27, signifying the year of the event.
Beth Mowrey died Aug. 31 after a battle with cancer — about a month after Bigelow.
“It’s an emotional day for me,” Alan Mowrey said. “My wife was here last year with a broken back. She put everyone else ahead of herself. She was always fighting for a cause.”
Alan Mowrey, who works for the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team, the Cleveland Monsters American Hockey League team and the Cleveland Gladiators Arena Football League franchise, said his wife battled cancer for eight years. The couple’s four children were at the game, which is held in Meadows’ backyard on Hood Road in Medina Township.
“She loved this event,” Alan Mowrey said. “Beth loved to serve people and help people in need. Even though she passed, her legacy will live on.”
Jon Lavoy, who was a member of the winning gray team, won the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“It’s such an honor to be here every year,” Lavoy said.
He said the real MVP was Alan Mowrey for playing in the game, despite the loss of his wife.
Rick Niese, president of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, was grateful for the huge donation.
“Because of the Turkey Bowl, we’re able to help about 1,000 families in the greater Medina County area,” he said.
He said his charity provides food, furniture, bedding, rent and utilities.
“It’s been around for 50 years,” Niese said. “This is a real blessing. A lot of needy people will be taken care of this year.”
Biegel said he wanted to continue to help the Bigelow family.
“People are always willing to help out for a cause,” he said. “It’s the community.”
He said he got about 350 people to donate from $3 to $3,000.
Biegel said the packages that are offered to donors sell themselves, such as a golf outing at Medina Country Club and tickets to Cleveland Indians games.
One of Biegel’s assistants in fundraising, Kyle Smith, said he met the Bigelow family last year.
“I’m proud to be a part of this,” he said. “This is a real nice event.”
The generosity of Mike and Connie Meadows impressed Biegel.
“What other charity in Medina raises $245,000?” he asked.
Biegel said he has more fun planned for a Special Olympics game set for 9 a.m. today, also at Hood Road.
“Those guys have a blast,” he said.
In the championship game Thursday, the gray team defeated the red team 31-24. The 6-foot-8, 285-pound Jordan Masters won the event’s Mr. Hustle award, while Pete Meadows took home the Mr. Toughest award.
Many of the players were former high school and college stars from Northeast Ohio. As the games wore on, they became more competitive and picked up in intensity.
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.