Annual Turkey Bowl at Harrington Middle School more than just a game

Annual Turkey Bowl at Harrington Middle School more than just a game

The annual Thanksgiving football game between Lenape and Shawnee high schools won’t be the only football played by Mt. Laurel kids that day.

Nearby at Harrington Middle School, more than 100 kids are expected to take the field in the sixth annual Turkey Bowl.

The game has become part of the culture in the Mt. Laurel community. The game started in 2008 after Marianne Makaila’s son, Ryan, asked why he couldn’t play football with his friends on Thanksgiving.

“He was just curious on holidays why you only got to see your family and not your friends,” Marianne said.

Ryan began to talk to his friends about having a game on Thanksgiving morning. In 2008, 15 kids showed up to play a touch football game. It was a hit for everyone.

“To be honest, we thought we’d only have five kids come,” Marianne said. “Now we have about 100 kids and siblings play.”

The event has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Marianne said that Ryan is very sociable, and that by word of mouth, the popularity of this event has exploded.

“It really took off,” Marianne said. “(Ryan) makes friends with everyone and he just kept going and going at it.”

The event has now evolved into more than just a football game. Marianne’s other son, Marc, had cerebral palsy. She said that she understands people with special needs and what they go through.

So as the game entered its third year, Marianne decided to add a fundraiser for a needy family.

“We had a friend who was in similar situation with cerebral palsy,” she said. “So we thought we could make a little bit of a difference.”

The fundraising effort has taken on as much of a life as the game. That little bit of difference Marianne mentioned has gone a long way. She said more than $1,200 was raised during last year’s game. That was enough for seven families in need to buy Christmas gifts for their children.

“We figured it would be a good idea since everybody was there,” she said. “Most people are very fortunate to have what they have. If everyone gave a dollar or two, it could really go a long way.”

The fundraiser will return in 2013, with the money raised going to the family of Eric “Ebo” Eberling. Eberling has a recurrent bone cancer for which his family had to fly to Germany to get him treatment. Ryan had been on a team with Eberling’s younger brother.

While a bigger fundraiser is being held on Nov. 24 at Laurel Lanes for Eberling, Marianne thought they could send money raised at the Turkey Bowl to the family as well.

“I met them about a year ago,” Marianne said. “The people in the community are doing something bigger for them. But this is something on the smaller scale.”

The fundraiser may be on a smaller scale, but there is nothing small about the Turkey Bowl. It has become a fixture of Mt. Laurel’s Thanksgiving.

“It’s definitely a community tradition,” Marianne said. “People look forward to it and it’s something that we always do.”