Disclaimer :: Fort Worth Moms writer Katie wrote this post in partnership with the National Football Foundation’s Football Matters campaign.
A few days before every Thanksgiving, a massive group text is sent to friends and family. Some of the folks are people we haven’t talked to in a year, and some people, like my husband and me, don’t even live in the state anymore. The text is an annual invite to our community’s “Turkey Bowl,” in which 25 to 50 people lace up worn-out pairs of cleats and walk on to our town’s old, grass football field to play two-hand touch football. There’s a new high school that has a better, fancier turf field, but there’s something about the dewy grass and mud patches on the old field that feels like home and tradition. Football means more to them than winning or losing.
To say the game is nostalgic is an understatement. The men and boys who show up to play range from elementary-age to upwards of 40. The group is usually divided into two teams, mostly because every year a growing number of guys realize they’re not as young as they used to be.
Since the event takes place a few mornings before Thanksgiving, out-of-town people are home visiting family, and the game is another opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends. The Turkey Bowl has been happening for so long that several of the men who show up to play have coached other players who are now grown with new families of their own.
In the stands are families and friends of the players. They huddle together and are bundled in layers with hands cupping hot chocolates and coffee. They watch the game in from of them, but mostly there’s laughter mixed with quiet moments of reminiscing. Remember when we camped in the front yard of the high school? Remember when we crammed six of us in a car and snuck off campus for lunch? Who pulled the fire alarm that one time and made us evacuate and stand in the rain? (By the way, I know who did, and I may be married to him.)
The football game is a blast to attend, but there’s more to it than throwing around a pigskin and getting your clothes covered in grass stains. My brother, who is now the head defensive coach for our high school team, suggested the Turkey Bowl also be a canned food drive. The food is donated to a local family when they probably need it most — at Thanksgiving when loved ones ought to feast without worry.
Football offers young people a chance to witness in-person good sportsmanship, teamwork, fairness, winning, and losing. It gives older players the opportunity to teach lessons that reach beyond the rules of the game. If you’re ever around my family, there’s rarely a teachable moment that doesn’t relate back to football. Be tough, dedicated, reliable, and fair — those are all traits children can learn from being part of a football team.
Being a parent and watching kids interact with other kids, as well as teenagers and men on the field, brings relief and satisfaction knowing there are good people in the world who value integrity. Teachers and leaders are born as they realize how much they love to coach. And kids can learn how to be coached and taught. Maybe these sound like strong emotions from just watching a game of two-hand-touch, but when our lives are so busy and schedule-driven, it’s easy to overlook the good that lives in people.
Football Matters to more than the players. It matters to coaches, referees, friends, family, and communities. The game binds people together, and it teaches us the values we have in common. Sign your kids up to play. Go to your local school’s game. Start your own Turkey Bowl and canned food drive. You won’t regret it.
The National Football Foundation (NFF) launched Football Matters to celebrate the positive impact the game has made on millions of players, coaches, administrators, volunteers, and fans nationwide. Debuting in February 2018 at www.footballmatters.com and on social media, Football Matters spotlights and explains the many benefits that football brings to communities, schools, families, and individuals and the opportunities it provides those on and off the field and at every level. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.