November 27, 2019

Twenty-Five Years of the Turkey Bowl To be Celebrated at Marquand Park

A TOUCH FOOTBALL TRADITION: The Princeton Gentleman’s Society will celebrate its 25th anniversary the usual way — playing football and eating homemade kielbasas at Marquand Park on Thanksgiving Day. Many in this group from 2007 are expected to turn out for this year’s event.

By Anne Levin

On Thanksgiving morning in 1994, a few local fathers and their pre-teenaged sons got together to play some touch football at Princeton Battlefield Park. The idea was simple — get some exercise before heading home to indulge in the holiday dinner.

The pickup games were repeated the following year, with more players joining in. By 1997, 20 fathers, sons, and friends were showing up at the Turkey Bowl. That year, the first Most Valuable Player (MVP) was being presented the honorary Turkey Bowl football, to be signed and kept until the following year.

The Bowl was becoming a tradition, at one point drawing some 50 or 60 players to the Battlefield to get some pre-feast exercise, rain or shine. The popular event moved to Marquand Park in 2003, and has been held there ever since. This year marks the 25th anniversary. The founders never dreamed that their informal Thanksgiving gathering would become an annual holiday ritual.

“What started out to be a get-together of friends and fathers from school, and some neighbors, has now grown into a second game where kids in their 20s and 30s play,” said Tony DiMeglio, one of the originals. “We have a lot of fun playing, and we eat a lot, too, even though we’re all going home to Thanksgiving dinner.”

Yes, they eat. After a 10 a.m. breakfast spread of donuts, coffee, lox and bagels, and more, the exertions begin. The original founders are in one game, their now-grown sons, and some daughters, are in another, and a third field is for their young children. Breaking for lunch is a highlight. JD “Sausage King” Walker, one of the founders, brings a grill to the park to prepare his homemade kielbasas.

“Then we play another half, where we hopefully work off some of what we’ve consumed,” said DiMeglio, 72, a broker with Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty and a resident of Princeton for 33 years. “We try to be careful.”

DiMeglio and other members formed the Princeton Gentleman’s Society in 2006, with a goal of making donations to local nonprofits part of the annual tradition. The group, who also play on Super Bowl Sunday, have given funds to organizations including Christine’s Hope for Kids, Princeton High School Boys’ Lacrosse, the Princeton Recreation Department, and the Marquand Park Foundation. The latter two are this year’s recipients.

“We’re proud of the foundation,” said Jeff DuFour, 65, who joined in 2003 and is managing partner of the public accounting and business advisory firm Tillit Associates. “We want to give back to the community.”

The move from the Battlefield to Marquand Park came because of documentation requirements from the New Jersey State Park Service. “We played there for many years until the state thought it was in total disregard for the men who had died and been buried there, and we shouldn’t be playing football there,” said DiMeglio. DuFour added, “We got supported at Marquand by the Princeton Recreation Department. They’ve been very gracious.”

The children who were small when the group started are now in their early 30s, some with children of their own. With three generations of Turkey Bowl players, a third field was set up last year for the smallest contenders.

The annual MVP player gets his or her name on the ball. “You could be MVP for many reasons — because you’re good, or because you got your head cracked open,” said DuFour. “Along with that comes the responsibility of throwing a party the week before the event each year.”

The event has become a tradition because it is open to anyone interested in a gentlemanly game of football. “It’s about playing the game, and getting a chance to see people you’ve known for years,” said DiMeglio. “We have this great relationship with each other, and of supporting the town. People show up from all over because it became an infectious thing. So new people get introduced. We don’t know if anything like this exists anywhere else in Princeton.”

The Turkey Bowl will be held starting at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, rain, snow, or shine. Contributions to the foundation are welcome.