50 years later, Hanover family reflects on Turkey Bowl tradition
It started as four tykes playing with a pigskin on Thanksgiving morning.
At the time, the little grass field seemed as grand as a football stadium, but, looking back, the participants admit it was really a little alley off Summit Avenue in Hanover.
The location and the rules have changed, and the brothers at the helm of the annual event have mostly yielded to the next generations, but, 50 years later, the Zinn family Turkey Bowl is still charging forward, likely yelling "Get 'em!" — the traditional start to the annual game.
"It started out as a pickup game, but it grew way beyond that," said Ken Zinn, the oldest sibling. "It's now a reunion."
Close to 100 people, friends and family of the Zinns, have participated over the years. The tradition has entered into a third generation with some players' grandchildren getting their time to shine on Turkey Day.
John Zinn, the game's organizer, has scrupulously documented the event over the years, compiling a scrapbook full of invitations, photographs and guest lists.
The hope is that the next generations of Zinns will carry the torch.
"They understand the importance of tradition, too," John said. "I think, we, as the first generation, have instilled that in them. There's certain things in life that you need to value and hold close to your heart, and this is one of them."
A special T-shirt for
50th annual Zinn family and friends Turkey Bowl features the five Zinn
From left, Ken, John, Dave, Janine Mundorff and Bob. (Photo: Submitted)
Humble beginnings: Turkey Bowl I added life, hard hits to Thanksgiving morning
The tradition revolves around five siblings: Ken, 64; John, 61; Dave Zinn, 60; Janine Mundorff, 58; and Bob Zinn, 56.
The first Turkey Bowl, in 1969, involved two of the brothers, John and Dave, and a couple friends.
Ken was "too interested in girls" at the time, John joked.
"I think at that point, I enjoyed sleeping in too much," Ken said.
Bob was treated like most youngest siblings.
"I wanted to play, and they made me stand on the sidelines," he said.
Back then, it was tackle football. It has since evolved to flag football and eventually two-hand touch.
The boys' love of football was passed down from their father, Dick Zinn, an Air Force veteran.
They were obsessed with the sport at every level — Delone Catholic High School, Penn State and the Baltimore Colts.
"We felt the morning was dead because, most times, moms are in baking turkeys, and everybody else was sleeping in because it was a day off and football doesn't start until the afternoon," John said. "So we just said let's use some of that time and play football."
The brothers, who fought like brothers do, were on opposing teams.
"We never had referees, but we probably needed them," Ken said.
A photo from the 2010
Zinn family and friends Turkey Bowl is displayed in the scrapbook John Zinn put
(Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)
The game grew and grew from the backyard affair as the whole family got involved and kids in the neighborhoods began trickling in. The game moved to Clearview Elementary in the 70s and is now held at Park Hills Elementary.
The most memorable games came in the worst weather, like the time they played in a foot of snow at Clearview.
"We've played in the mud," Dave said. "We've played in the rain. It's rain or shine."
Gradually, it became a part of the year everybody eagerly anticipated.
"Like opening gifts," Ken said.
Added John, "From year to year, because you're enmeshed in it, at least in the months around, it's just an important family event just like gathering for Turkey Day or Christmas. But this is different because it includes your close friends, ones who come to you in your aid if you need it. These are all close people."
Despite Thanksgiving trips to the ER and the wear and tear of time, Turkey Bowl endures
Like any long-standing family tradition, the Zinn Turkey Bowl has accounted for numerous sentimental memories over the years.
The brothers, sitting together and reminiscing on John's back porch last month, recalled those moments from Turkey Bowls past.
Ken will never forget the one about 20 years ago that all but ended his Turkey Bowl career.
Ken Zinn, left, cracks up as his brother, Dave, shows him a picture of himself as a cartoon drawing. To celebrate the 50th Zinn family and friends Turkey Bowl, Dave and his daughter, Jana Bonds, created special T-shirts emblazoned with caricatures of the five Zinn siblings. (Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)
On a slick surface, he was back fielding a punt and went to lateral the ball to his teammate when his legs slipped out from under him.
"When I came down, it sounded like a shotgun going off," Ken said.
Ken broke his collar bone, and it took a long time to heal.
"My wife laid down the law," Ken said. "She said, 'You're not playing anymore.'"
Ken has mostly abided, sneaking in a few snaps here and there since the injury.
Bob recounted going to the emergency room to get stitches above his eye and dislocating his pinky finger "90 degrees to the side."
Not all the memories are painful, and the game has become less aggressive since more youngsters, like John's granddaughter Ella, have gotten involved.
"Normally, we're playing to let everybody participate, so even the youngest kids that might be 7 years old or 6, they try to like let them catch the ball just as much as some of the best ones unless you're actually trying to win the game there in the end," Bob said.
The pivot to focus on the next generation and turn the tradition into a social event was partially born out of necessity.
"We've all tried to hang in there over the years," Dave said.
In recent years, Dave has played mostly center and middle linebacker to cut down on the peripheral running.
A lot easier 25 years ago.
Bob typically plans a hunting trip Thanksgiving weekend. He said it can be hard for him to get out of the car on the long trip the day after the game.
Five years ago was John's wake-up call.
"I had to crawl up and down the steps for three days," he said. "It was bad. It was bad."
Next generation of Turkey Bowlers carry the torch for Thanksgivings to come
Under John's guidance, the event has become more of a social gathering, where friends and family can catch up with each other. He sent out 94 invitations for this year's event.
"It's kind of like a class reunion in some ways, that kind of climate," Ken said. "You're glad to see people. Sometimes, it is the first time you've seen them since the last Turkey Bowl."
Attendees are treated to hot chocolate and doughnut holes. Before kickoff, the first half hour is spent socially before everyone gathers for a group prayer and team photos.
Dave called John, who diligently organizes the event each year, "the glue that's held us together."
John will be handing over the reins to his daughter, Erica O'Brien, for next year's Turkey Bowl.
"I hope I can fill those shoes," she said. "He's done an awesome job."
O'Brien represents the second generation, tasked with upholding the tradition for years to come.
It won't be much of a chore.
"My kids are probably more excited about the Turkey Bowl than I even was," Ken said.
O'Brien agreed, adding, "I think I'll speak for all my cousins, like, just being a part of the tradition has been amazing, just keeps the spirit alive."
Dave and his daughter, Jana Bonds, designed T-shirts for the 50th anniversary. The shirts feature caricatures of each of the five siblings as turkeys with distinguished elements, like the brothers' favorite sports teams, Ken in a sling from his collar bone injury and Janine wearing pom poms as a cheerleader.
"I look at it as people have really gotten a high," Ken reflected. "My kids go out and, I think, the anticipation of being a part of it and then going out and being a part of it, they come away with a real high feeling about everybody being so cordial."
John is touched that, over the years, people have found a way to make it out to the game again and again on Thanksgiving.
"That's a special day in a lot of people's families, but they separate the morning hours from 8 to 11:30 just to join us, which is pretty cool," he said.
On that October afternoon, the brothers polled each other on who would be playing this year.
Dave and John were in. Ken relented he might come "out of retirement" to take a couple snaps.
"Is that a rhetorical question?" Bob asked. "Of course I'm playing."
As the Zinn siblings bantered and kidded one another discussing the Turkey Bowl, they resembled any family looking back on a meaningful holiday tradition.
"We're not the only family to have turkey bowls of course, but we've been at it for a long time," Dave said.