Sam Meadows, 26, of Team Kaitlynn goes for a one-handed catch against Team Kara during the 28th Meadows Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning. Team Kaitlynn advanced to the championship game where they fell against Team Carlito in overtime.
HALEE HEIRONIMUS / GAZETTE Enlarge
Players of the annual Meadows Turkey Bowl backyard football game crowded around 6-year-old
Kaitlynn Baker before taking the field. “Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray!” the players cheered.
Kaitlynn, of Brunswick, was one of four children battling leukemia that each team sponsored for the 28th annual event Thanksgiving morning held at Mike Meadows’ home on Hood Road in Medina Township.
“The Meadows Turkey Bowl has become a tradition and a community,” Meadows said.
“It’s more than just a fundraiser.”
Each of the four 10-man teams wore a children’s name on the back of their jerseys.
The other children were Kara Hullihen, Perry Township (near Massillon); Kaleia Lechner, Ashland; and Carlito Ellis, Akron.
The backyard football game again exceeded previous years’ totals, raising an all-time high $263,000 for charities.
Proceeds will go to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
In turn, St. Vincent will donate 30 percent of the proceeds to Akron Children’s Hospital to aid childhood cancer victims.
“This means a lot,” Kaitlynn’s mother, Andrea Wilson, said. “There’s not a lot of knowledge for childhood cancer and making sure that a portion of the proceeds are given to children that sometimes have no future it gives us hope.”
Rick Niese, president of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, added: “This will definitely make a difference for the needy in Medina County and those at Akron Children’s Hospital.”
Kaitlynn, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Dec. 31, 2015, has been in remission since 2016. Wilson said Kaitlynn’s last chemotherapy treatment is March 3.
“Her type has a 98 percent success rate,” Wilson said. “It’s been a blessing. I know that sounds weird, but it put life in perspective.”
“She’s my superhero,” Wilson added of her daughter.
While Kaitlynn appeared to have no interest in the game, her mother laughed, she gave a little cheer when Team Kaitlynn advanced to the championship game.
Team Kaitlynn fell to Team Carlito in overtime, 46-38. Organizers said this was the first time in the event’s history the championship game went into overtime.
“We came out a little short for you, Kaitlynn,” Meadows said of his team. “But we thank you for coming out.”
Team Carlito captain Jon Levoy said he had “extra motivation” to win this year because he was playing for two children — Carlito and Piper.
“(Piper) was my friend’s daughter who died in August at 6 years old from Ewing’s sarcoma (a cancer of the bones and tissues),” Levoy said. “I was playing for Piper and wanted to win in her memory.”
Levoy said his extra funds raised will go to the 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation that is geared toward fighting Ewing’s sarcoma. Levoy did not disclose how much money he raised.
“This year’s game was extra meaningful for me,” he said.
To participate in the backyard game, each player must raise at least $2,000.
Medina plumber Bill Biegel set the tone for fundraisers, bringing in about $50,000 this year. Half of his proceeds will go to Special Olympics Medina County.
“Special Olympics is big for me,” Biegel said. “Meeting the kids with cancer this year was another big drive.”
Meadows said Biegel has raised $250,000 since he’s participated in the event.
“That’s a one-man show,” Meadows said of Biegel. “I’ve never seen a person so passionate about an organization like Bill is.”
Biegel said the fun will continue today with a Special Olympics game set for 9 a.m., also at Hood Road.
Following the championship backyard football game, Team Carlito’s Brian Borrhello and Sam Branstool both were awarded with the Most Valuable Player award.
Steve Robertson of Team Carlito won the event’s Mr. Hustle award, while Team Kaitlynn’s Anthony Melchiorre took home the Mr. Toughest award.
Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.