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Turkey Bowl becomes Thanksgiving tradition for Sarver neighborhood

People take part in the 2022 Turkey Bowl
People take part in the 2022 Turkey Bowl last Thanksgiving in Sarver. Submitted photo.

It started a few years ago with a smattering of children who wanted to play football in Dave and Jennie Kane’s backyard on Thanksgiving Day.

By 2022, the Turkey Bowl grew into a Sarver Thanksgiving tradition that brings together dozens of families to The Oaks neighborhood for outdoor fun — and a good cause.

“It’s so cool how this evolved from an impromptu football game into a charity event everyone looks forward to every year,” said Michelle Paga, one of the event’s organizers.

That first year, the game attracted a few neighborhood children to the Kanes’ backyard. The following year, the event was moved to the Pagas’ property on Julia Road, a few blocks away.

Over time, the Turkey Bowl — as it came to be known — grew year after year.

“It went from eight kids to 20 to 50 — all because it grew organically through the community,” said Michael Paga, Michelle’s husband. “Everybody wanted to come out and do it.”

Michael also credits social media and high school gossip for the rise of the Turkey Bowl.

“Once other kids saw the (Freeport) high school kids posting, I guess it grew organically because of social media and kids saying, ‘Can I come? Can I come?’” Michael said.

This Thanksgiving, Michael expects upward of 100 people to storm his backyard — half of them players, half spectators. Each year, organizers send out invitations to every family in the Oaks neighborhood, as well as a few others in Buffalo Township.

“We also have out-of-state relatives who come every Thanksgiving. They never want to miss participating in the Turkey Bowl,” Michael said. “We have relatives from Michigan and Maine who drive hours to (get to) Sarver, and they haven’t missed a year since we started the Turkey Bowl that very first year.”

The level of planning that goes into the annual Turkey Bowl rivals that which goes into the Thanksgiving Day games played on national television by the professionals. Early in the morning, the Paga children go out to line the field, while Michele prepares a “breakfast smorgasbord” for the incoming players.

So many players are expected that the organizers divide the backyard into two fields: one for younger players, and another for older players. In advance of the Turkey Bowl, some members of the Paga and Kane families hold a “draft night” to put the teams together out of all players who have expressed interest.

However, on the day of the Turkey Bowl, walk-in players are accepted.

“We sometimes have walk-in participants the morning of, and that’s OK,” Michael said. “Nobody ever gets turned away.”

That said, the Turkey Bowl isn’t all fun and games. It also serves as a major holiday donation drive. There is one condition of getting to play in the Turkey Bowl, and that is bringing at least five cans of nonperishable food for donation for local food banks.

According to Michael, this practice began four years ago.

“Most people are generous and bring more,” Paga said. “We collect any nonperishable food items and aren’t picky about what we receive. We are always very appreciative of every donation we receive, and I know the food bank is too.”

This year, the food donations will be taken to Highlands Family Center in Tarentum, which provides family support and childhood development services in Allegheny County.

“We load up the donations into Dave Kane’s truck, and the Kane boys and Paga boys help to drop off the goods,” Michael said. “It’s such an awesome feeling to bring the community together while helping families in need.”

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