Jim Todd started with a dozen kids the year he started the Crossroads Grace Turkey Bowl.
Both teams played on the last day before Thanksgiving, and the following year the game grew slightly as the game moved to the Friday following the holiday.
The only problem with that, Todd said, was that the wives of the players of the game – which now included even more people – wanted to spend that time out at the stores shopping on Black Friday.
So they all agreed that they’d play early Thanksgiving morning. That was 20 years ago, and the game itself has grown so much that Todd has quit advertising it because he’s afraid that he’ll run out of space.
Thursday morning at Woodward Park, virtually all of the space on the upper portion of the park was in use as more than 300 people split up among nearly two-dozen teams to take to the fields and partake in something that has become a community tradition.
While Devon Woodall – an 18-year-old East Union graduate – is getting more than his fair share of football at MJC, he still had to come out and put on the flags with his friends and get a little bit of a workout in before dinner.
“I think that it’s wonderful for people to be able to come out here and have fun with their friends and compete. It’s a lot of fun,” Woodall said. “First exercise and then eat. It’s a good way to spend a Thanksgiving.”
The majority of the players out on the field are local high school players and graduates looking to have a little bit of fun before spending the rest of the day with their families.
But it’s also an event that draws more than a few from outside of the area that come to see friends that they might not have seen for a while.
“It’s a reunion for a lot of people that don’t go to Crossroads – we get people that come every year from Lodi, Delhi, Modesto,” said Todd, an Outreach Pastor at Crossroads. “I did a wedding, and when I went to the reception I had on a red Adidas shirt and one of the groomsmen came up to me and said, ‘Now I know where I recognize you from. You’re the guy from the Turkey Bowl.’
“That’s kind of what it’s become.”
Players are asked to make a $5 donation when they register that goes to help the homeless in and around the community. It raised more than $1,200 that will be turned over to Love INC (In the Name of Christ), a local branch of the national faith-based non-profit organization that helps provide food and other basic needs to those who need assistance.
But the event itself wouldn’t be complete without a special message.
“We want to let them all know that there’s more to life than just football,” Todd said. “Ultimately it’s all about God’s love.
“We have a coach here from East Union that made a good point – he said that the message we gave was more church than some of these guys have had in years. It’s a brief message but it’s important.”