HINKLEY, Ohio. It was easy to find out whose name would grace the backs of players’ jerseys at this year’s Meadows Turkey Bowl.
Every player – over 40 across six teams – competed with Gianna Ray on their backs. Gianna Ray was the child of Pete and Anita Meadows, who died this year in late pregnancy. And, building on the power of grassroots fundraising, a beautiful day, the memory and legacy of Gianna Rae, the Meadows Turkey Bowl raised a record $533,000 for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Mary Grace Memorial Fund, focusing on cancer research. The money is for specific work being done at the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.
This year the total is $3,715,800. Fundraising for the game has been held only since 2005. For the second year in a row, the game has topped half a million dollars.
“This is a pretty unique year,” said Pete Meadows, whose father Mike helped found the football club in 1990 in the backyard of his Medina home. “When you see my daughter’s name, the important thing is that it’s emotional, but I want my daughter’s name to live on. Many times when you have a stillborn, it is talked about, but there is no inheritance. We built a legacy with my daughter’s name. It’s really special.”
Pete Meadows went through his personal trials; he survived after being diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer, in 2020. His daughter’s legacy lives on outside of the game: The Gianna Rae Foundation for Oligodendroglioma is raising money to fight back.
“Look at everyone’s jerseys; that’s my daughter’s name,” said Pete, who is always more proud of his daughter than he regrets his diagnosis more than two years ago.
It took a flurry of last-minute donations for the game to break the donation record set in 2021.
“In the last three days, we have probably lost about $100,000,” Mike Meadows said. “I told my boys (Matt, Michael and Pete), ‘I don’t think we can do it.’ And all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, an anonymous donor gave $15,000. Then another Turkish bowler, Al Melchiorre, gave $25,000. Then another anonymous donor called last night and said, “I have a check for $14,000.” Then I thought: “Maybe we have a chance to fight.” “
Mike Meadows added, “It’s surreal to think where we’ve come from, from $800 (raised in 2005) to $533,000 today.”
It’s hard to fathom the evolution of a game that began over 30 years ago and quickly became a holiday ritual requiring almost year-round planning.
The family has details for fans, including setting up a basket of hand warmers near a sign advertising Turkey’s bowl and its mission: “Always give back.” About 80 banners are lined up along the long brick wall of Meadows’ 1st Day School Supplies store, where the game is currently taking place. More than a dozen members of the Highland High School band performed in front of more than 100 fans who lined the water bottle-littered venues. Bonfires were burning, dogs were sniffing, and Daniel the Clown entertained the children by twisting balloons. Northeast Ohio radio veteran Kenny Rhoda called the games a bullhorn, offering game after game and occasional jokes as players clambered up on four-second dashes.
Nothing stopped the game – not Covid, not the weather. On Thursday, Mother Nature was kind, with temperatures above freezing at the start and up to 50 degrees by the time the championship game was played in the late morning.
“This is the perfect day,” Mike Meadows said. “The challenge was to keep going. We went from a football game in the backyard to this.”
The teams competed in a round robin system in the NFL team colors of light blue (Chargers), navy blue (Cowboys), purple (Vikings), green (Packers), red (Chiefs) and brown (Forniners). For the first time, individual numbers were used in addition to the tribute name on the back of the jersey.
This is appropriate as the game is both a team sport and an individual sport. As teams compete on the field on Thanksgiving morning, people hustle throughout the year to collect donations from family, friends, clients and colleagues. According to Mike Meadows, most players who must contribute at least $2,000 in donations are between 28 and 32 years old. Only a quartet of veterans remained: Mike Meadows and his brother Bill – two of the original four from 1990 – Brian Coughlin and Al Melchiorre.
Mr Hustle: Michael Costandaras.
Coolest Man: Brian Coughlin plays in his last Turkey Bowl.
MVP: Sean O’Neill and Darren Tsereshko.
For reference, Melchiorre’s Chargers team defeated the Vikings in the 33rd annual Meadows Turkey Bowl, in which Pete Meadows led his team as quarterback on a day dedicated to his daughter Gianna Rae.
“I know she is here with us today,” he said.
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Donations per year
Total collected: $3,715,800.
1990-2004: No fundraising.
Game lighting: Here is our coverage of the Thanksgiving game over the years – stories, photos and a few videos: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.
Donate: The Meadows Turkey Bowl website has a donation page.
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I’m on cleveland.comlife and culture, as well as covering topics related to food, beer, wine and sports. If you want to see my stories here is the catalog at cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk about food and drink usually at 8:20 am on a Thursday. Twitter: @mbona30.
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