The football field extends about 50 yards and is slightly sloped. Its shaggy turf is brown in some areas. The field is lined every 10 yards with white paint, but some of the lines are crooked.
But on this Thanksgiving morning, the day of the annual Meadows’ Turkey Bowl, the field is ready for play. An inch or so of melted snow has left the turfgrass muddy, but it’s perfect for the backyard touch football game to be played.
Players in black jerseys and those in red take the field for the big game. All of the players have the name “Radke” imprinted on the back of their jerseys (more on that later).
The players, some in their 20s and 30s, and some in their 40s and 50s, play the game fiercely. While they’re having fun, there’s definitely a will to win on both sides of the ball.
But in the end, everyone knows the purpose of this edition of the Meadows’ Turkey Bowl is the same as it’s been the the last 10 years – helping those in need. And did it ever. The game raised $190,000.
Mike Meadows is the brains and big heart behind the game, so aptly named for him. It’s played in the backyard of his modest home in Medina, Ohio.
The game is a long-standing tradition at the Meadows’ house, but it didn’t become a fundraiser until 10 years ago. After that particular game, the players began passing a hat for donations to reimburse Meadows for the money he spent to feed them breakfast, which is also a tradition. Meadows told them, “I don’t want your money.”
But then the proverbial lightbulb went off in Meadows’ head, and he asked himself, “Why not give this money to the needy, and why not turn this Turkey Bowl into a fundraiser every year?”
A decade later, Meadows and the other players have raised nearly $1 million in donations from friends, family and corporate sponsors.
After the 2014 game, Meadows presented a check to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an organization that provides food, clothing and other essentials to the poor. Thirty percent of the money, however, was given to assist a local woman, Michelle Radke, and her children. Last summer, Pete Radke, Michelle’s husband, saved a teenager from drowning in Lake Erie, about 40 miles north of Medina. Sadly, Pete lost his life in the process. Meadows said, “There’s nothing more compelling than a guy who loses his life to save another.” In Radke’s honor, all the players wore his name on the back of their jerseys.
For a few years now, fans of the Meadows’ Turkey Bowl have suggested moving the game to a nice park or even the local high school’s football stadium. But Meadows believes the game would lose its luster if it moved.
“I want to keep it a backyard football game,” he says. “Playing it in a backyard makes it kind of cool. Playing it in an imperfect backyard like mine makes it even cooler. … It’s our field of dreams, if you will.”
Meadows says it’s a “humble field.” Still, for what it accomplishes, it’s as essential as any field in the world – even with its brown turf spots, crooked white lines and downward slope.