The Schneider family and friends take a photo at their 2018 Turkey Bowl game. They have been playing for about 16 or 17 years.

The Schneider family and friends take a photo at their 2018 Turkey Bowl game. They have been playing for about 16 or 17 years.

Photo provided by Betsy Schneider


Turkey, family and football

By: C & G Sports Staff | C&G Newspapers | Published November 25, 2019

 Hayden Stevens hauls in a pass during a recent game. For Mona Woltman, the annual game was designed in part as a way for kids to blow off some steam before heading home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Hayden Stevens hauls in a pass during a recent game. For Mona Woltman, the annual game was designed in part as a way for kids to blow off some steam before heading home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Photo provided by Mona Woltman

 The Schihl family holds a seven-round draft to determine the teams. The games are played at Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse.

The Schihl family holds a seven-round draft to determine the teams. The games are played at Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse.

Photo provided by Matthew Schihl

 The Kafoury family, of Warren, holds a family football game each Thanksgiving. The adults face off with the kids in the game. Pictured from left are Nathan, Charlie, John, Elijah, Michael, Madeline, Ava and Grace Kafoury during a past game.

The Kafoury family, of Warren, holds a family football game each Thanksgiving. The adults face off with the kids in the game. Pictured from left are Nathan, Charlie, John, Elijah, Michael, Madeline, Ava and Grace Kafoury during a past game.

Photo provided by Jen Kafoury

 James Neiman and friends have battled inclement weather conditions in order to play their yearly football game. Pictured, a 2013 snowstorm met the group at the Fraser High football field.

James Neiman and friends have battled inclement weather conditions in order to play their yearly football game. Pictured, a 2013 snowstorm met the group at the Fraser High football field.

Photo provided by James Neiman

METRO DETROIT — For many families in the metro Detroit area, the Detroit Lions aren’t the only game in town every Thanksgiving Day.

From draft boards to trophies and even a “Crazy Sue,” here’s a look at a collection of local families and friends who toss the old pigskin around in their own annual tradition.

 

‘I’m never disappointed. It’s always awesome.’
For Betsy Schneider, Thanksgiving Day starts bright and early.

It begins with preparing breakfast, as people roll in between 8 and 9 a.m. Teams are picked, with one wearing green jerseys and the other in blue.

The actual game begins around 10 a.m. at Lone Pine Elementary School in West Bloomfield. Betsy said they’ve been playing for about 16 or 17 years.

“I love getting up early, getting the coffee pots all rolling, getting everything in the oven — it’s nice and dark, and the jerseys are ready and pressed — and I just like to sit there and anticipate what great thing is going to happen today. I’m never disappointed. It’s always awesome,” Betsy said.

While this is a game between family and friends, make no mistake: Both teams are looking to win. Betsy said there are about 40 players.

The game has two referees: Betsy’s father (Bill) and uncle (Warren). She said her father is turning 80 this year, while her uncle is a few years younger. They have jerseys, flags and whistles, and keep the game very official.

There’s also a trophy on the line called the Ray Heitman Memorial Trophy, named after Betsy’s grandfather. Each year, ballots are brought to the field and everyone votes on the MVP for the game.

Back at the house, the votes are tallied and the winner is announced after lunch. The MVP of the game gets their initials carved into the trophy and gets to keep it for the year. The trophy is an old family lamp.

For Betsy, the day is about more than the game.

“It allows our kids to understand that family is more important than probably anything else,” Betsy said. “You can count on them; you look forward to seeing them; you look forward to the updates and the hanging out and the playing.”

 

‘I could probably have a cup of coffee anywhere on this street’
What started as a way for the kids to blow off some steam before Thanksgiving dinner turned into an annual tradition for Clawson resident Mona Woltman. Every year, she hosts a football game in her own backyard.

The parents take on the kids, and while Mona estimates the adults have won the majority of the battles, the kids are starting to make a comeback.

“It’s become a tradition, and I don’t think we could not do it,” Mona said. “I love that they look forward to it. There are some people that don’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving, and we include them. It’s a lot of fun.”

Smack talk for the event extends beyond the game itself. Clawson hosts a Fourth of July parade every year, and even then backhanded comments are hurled back and forth between kids and adults.

“We’ll see a lot of the people at the parade and we tell them, ‘You better start practicing,’” Mona said.

The most important part to Mona is getting together with loved ones in the community every year.

“This is a great street,” she said. “I could probably have a cup of coffee anywhere on this street. It’s a good street, so it makes the game a lot of fun.”

 

Measurables a big part of the Schihl family game
The Schihl family established its annual game in 2012. Matthew Schihl’s squad won a number of the early contests, which caused a bit of tension between the participants.

To even things out, a draft came into play. Matthew’s teams haven’t won since.

About 35 people play in three games each year, which are played at Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse. The winners of the first two games play for a championship trophy.

After captains are selected during the year, a draft is held about a week before Thanksgiving.

Players submit highlight reels to each captain with the hopes of being a high draft pick, Matthew said. That includes his 74-year-old grandmother.

This year, the group even had its own version of a draft guru.

“Those (highlight) videos are homemade,” Matthew said. “Everybody pleads their case to be a first-round pick. The captains remind you all year long that they’re watching you for the draft.

“The videos are funny and clever. This year, Santa Claus sent in a video making suggestions as to who should be the first pick. That was funny.”

Matthew said the family looks forward to the big games months ahead of time.

“Each October, we start sending highlight videos to the captains to plead our case of why we should be picked,” he said. “Videos have gotten more and more exaggerated and funny.

“It’s a big competition to be drafted in the first round. We have an official draft party, and we are all there waiting to hear our names called. Even picking the team hat color becomes a competition between the captains.”

 

‘Crazy Sue’
The Nelson family in Troy has been having their own version of a Turkey Bowl the day after Thanksgiving for approximately nine years.

Although Martha Nelson’s preference is for the game to stay friendly, sometimes things just don’t work out that way.

“We want it to be lighthearted, but I feel like it’s gotten more competitive (over) the years as the kids got older,” Martha said. “I don’t know if they (want to) crush us or what. … It gets competitive. They can’t tackle parents or anything like that, but sometimes it gets rough.”

Aside from the action the game provides, things can also get interesting when other family members come to Jaycee Park in Troy to watch, while towing cowbells.

One of those family members is Martha’s mom, Sue Fisk.

“She’ll be yelling out her things,” Martha said. “She knows a lot (of) the kids. … She’ll trash talk, too. (Her) nickname among the kids is ‘Crazy Sue.’ … She’ll have the cowbell and just be yelling on the sidelines whatever she’s yelling. Cheering, I guess.”

Although there is no prize for the winning team, the MVP gets a trophy, which has a small stuffed turkey attached to it.

This year’s game is expected to feature something much more important than an MVP trophy.

Two of Martha’s three sons, Jake and Derick, serve in the military. Although Derick isn’t expected to be home, Jake will be there.

The opportunity to play a game with him, along with another of her sons, Tyler, is no small thing to Martha.

“I love playing with my kids,” she said. “Even though they’re older, I still (want to) do that. This is a great opportunity to continue that on. I hope eventually they’ll just take it over.”

 

Keeping a tradition alive
Charlie and Madeline Kafoury hosted the most beautiful, traditional Thanksgiving dinners, according to their daughter-in-law, Jen.

Madeline handled the food and Charlie took care of the football — a sport he loved, played and coached for large portions of his life.

The matriarch and patriarch of the Kafoury family have since passed away, but the family has kept the tradition going and even added a new wrinkle.

Each Thanksgiving, the Kafourys, of Warren, have a family flag football game that sees the adults take on the younger Kafourys. Their Turkey Bowl started in 2011. The children pushed the idea of battling the adults, Jen said, adding that the youngsters inherited their grandfather’s competitive spirit.

The game is the brainchild of Chuck Kafoury and is played at Warren’s Halmich Park.

“(Chuck) is certainly the motivator and team mascot,” Jen said of her brother-in-law. “He brings all the equipment and extra jerseys for everyone to wear. No matter what the weather is, Chuck will get the game together.”

The games get pretty intense. There’s trash talk from both sides, but it’s all in good fun. The ages for this year’s matchup range from 11 to 47.

“The first game was a lot of fun,” Jen said. “We love how little the kids were. We had 3-year-olds tripping over their jerseys and middle schoolers huddling up to come up with their big secret plays.”

One of the younger Kafourys gets a little more fired up than everyone else, though, Jen said. Chuck’s son, Charlie, named after his father and grandfather, is extremely competitive. The kids’ lone win came in 2017.

“(Charlie) can usually shake it off in an hour or two — or maybe after a drumstick and piece of pie or two,” Jen said.

She added that the family talks about the game and the memories made all year long.

“It’s wonderful to carry on (a family tradition),” she said. “For me, it all but guarantees my house will be full of food, family and football every Thanksgiving for years to come. In our hearts, we know that Mr. Charlie and (Madeline) would have loved this tradition.”

 

Friends and football
James Neiman graduated from Fraser High in 2002. Two years later, James, along with fellow Fraser graduates and friends from the area, began a Thanksgiving Day football tradition.

James estimated 20 players showed up and were split into two teams during that first year. The group still sees double-digit participants every year.

“Even if people are out of town, everyone knows this is our institution,” James said. “Everyone looks forward to it once the weather turns and you try to get in shape.”

Thanksgiving is about spending time with close friends and family. That’s what makes the game at Fraser High special to James.

“For two hours, wherever people are at in life, everybody still makes it out,” he said. “Having everybody come out is the most satisfying part.”