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City ‘OGs’ hanging up their cleats

Warren Western Reserve grads celebrate friendship with 36th Turkey Bowl

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Tyler Wilson runs with the ball as Bob Angelo pursues him in an annual Thanksgiving morning football game in the field next to the old St. Pius X Church. Angelo is one of a group of 1985 Warren Western Reserve graduates who have been playing their “Turkey Bowl” for 37 years, only missing 2020, but are planning to call it quits after this year. Over the years, younger family members like Wilson have joined the game.

WARREN — Some events go on rain, shine, sleet or snow — like one group’s decadeslong tradition of Thanksgiving morning football.

The lifelong friends from Warren Western Reserve High School’s Class of 1985 convened Thursday morning in the field next to the former St. Pius X Church on the west side of Warren for their 36th annual “Turkey Bowl.”

The dedicated group has missed only one year of play — in 2020 because of the pandemic — since its senior year of high school.

“It’s one of the benefits of living in the same town you grew up in — there’s pros and cons — but this is one of the great things. We run around with the people that we’ve known since we were little kids,” Bob Angelo of Warren said.

Some things have changed over the years. They used to play tackle, and now they play two-hand tag. The games also have gotten shorter, said Rob Hanna of Warren, an original player or “OG” as he put it.

The group’s other tradition of going out the night before Thanksgiving also has gotten “tame” compared to their younger years. Angelo said this year, he was home around 10 p.m. That wasn’t always the case.

While they may not be the young “maniacs” they once were, the group knows the secret to lasting friendships.

“You don’t get offended by things that would offend other people,” Angelo said.

Gary Israel of Warren, another original player, added growing up on the west side in tight-knit families, they all appreciate friendships.

With one last game under their belts, the OGs, now in their mid-50s, are planning to call it quits.

“It’s sort of emotional,” Hanna said, adding it just feels like it’s time.

Still, the group leaves a crop of younger players in its wake.

“It’s trickled down to sons, nephews, sons-in-law,” Hanna said.

Zach Meade of Warren started watching his father, Brian Meade, play in the game when he was 5 years old, and he has been playing himself for many years.

He said the game is “good quality time” with his dad and his dad’s friends, “which are all some of the best guys I’ve met.”

Jared Northup of Warren played Thursday even though his uncle, Dan Leihgeber, part of the original group, couldn’t be there.

“It’s awesome to do something like this every year,” Northup said. “You know, kind of get back to your childhood a little bit.”

With about five years of play under his belt, he said, “hopefully we can carry on the tradition and go for another 20 years or something.”

He joked it’s good to be active one day per year — especially before Thanksgiving’s big meal.

Thursday’s game was a showdown between eight original players and seven from the younger generation. As a fitting send-off, the original players won — although the game never was about the score.

“I guess that’s the thing: The game is much more than just football — it’s relationships,” Israel said. “It’s something that’s carried on for (almost) 40 years.”

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