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Knoernschild family celebrates its 50th Thanksgiving football anniversary

Family celebrates Thanksgiving game

Jim Melchior holds the 50-year-old cleats awarded to the Turkey Bowl MVP each year. Each charm on the cleats was put on by an MVP winner.

Jim Melchior holds the 50-year-old cleats awarded to the Turkey Bowl MVP each year. Each charm on the cleats was put on by an MVP winner. Photo By Michael Runyon

Nov. 28, 2012

Traditions are alive and well in the Knoernschild family, which celebrated its 50th football anniversary this Thanksgiving.

The Turkey Bowl, a touch football game involving three generations of the family, boasts all the bells and whistles of an NFL game, including family cheerleaders, most valuable players, referees and a familial pair of cleats, passed down over the years.

Burning off energy

The tradition was started in 1962 by the family priest, the Rev. William Knoernschild. With 34 grandchildren, the priest had to find a way to burn off the young ones' energy.

Remembering the first game, David Knoernschild said, "I remember when I was 12 and I woke up in the morning and I wanted to sleep in. My dad woke me up and said he wanted to go to a football game. I thought 'Football?' What do I know about football?' "

William Knoernschild was the first and no normal referee. He wore a clown suit, complete with nose, hair and shoes.

The game was an immediate hit with both young and old and each Thanksgiving the clan would wake with thoughts of not only turkey, but also pigskins on their mind.

The game continued uninterrupted until a Thanksgiving storm in 1975 brought eight inches of snow onto the field.

Undaunted, the family altered its plans. They had an indoor basketball game at St. Gregory's and, yes, they still had the MVP cleats pass down.

The cleats are a family treasure unto their own. Each MVP, usually one of the children, adds a token to them before passing them down. One such token is a wrong way sign, which was added by a family member who took the ball into the opposing end zone three times during the game.

It was easy for the opposing teams to know which way to run this year, as shirts were designed for the event. The shirts came in two colors for the teams, blue and gray. The logo depicts a turkey running with a football and was taken from the 25th anniversary's design.

While they weren't present this year, the family used to sport referee uniforms and plans on having them be part of their future games.

Getting everyone involved

The blue and gray opponents gave it their all this year, as is tradition. One of the referees, a retired player, broke two of his ribs on separate occasions during previous games. Most of the plays, however, were made by the younger generations.

Katy Thompson, captain of team gray, said, "We definitely try to give everybody a chance to hold the ball and make the plays. That's always the fun of it: Including the kids and letting them have a good time."

Although they celebrate with a football game before the turkey, the Knoernschilds are much like any other family. Thanksgiving is a time for them to catch up on relatives they seldom see and a chance to hear the clan's news.

Although the Rev. Knoernschild is gone, there are no plans to stop the gridiron good times. The family doesn't see a Thanksgiving without their football tradition.

David Knoernschild added, "This is a tradition in my family and nothing will make me miss this. Nothing. It's just fun."

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