Thanksgiving Bowl brings youth teams to area

Dec. 02, 2013 @ 09:30 AM

Football on Thanksgiving weekend is a tradition that seems as old as the sport itself, but dozens of youth football teams were in town for the holiday weekend to put their own twist on it.

The Gatlinburg Thanksgiving Bowl marked its 41st year with a tournament that drew 65 teams from nine different states to see who could take home trophies for nine age divisions. The event started Thursday and ended Saturday.

This year, teams were getting to play on some of the new fields being built for the Rocky Top Sports World complex. With the recent snow, the teams that got to play on the new artificial surfaces appreciated the change, event director Brad Justus said.

“The facilities are great. All of the teams have commented on how nice it is and how much they like playing on the turf.”

Revenues from the tournament benefit local youth football programs. There’s a registration fee and organizers make money from concessions, but they don’t charge for admission so anyone can come by and watch.

Justus said he hoped the football event also benefits the local economy. While each team plays in at least two games, the organizers hope it also leaves time for families to get out and visit local shops, restaurants and attractions while they’re here.

The Gatlinburg Thanksgiving Bowl has been a tradition for over 40 years now.

Founded in 1972, the event has been bringing quality teams to the Great Smoky Mountains ever since.

Originally, the games were held at Gatlinburg Pittman High School. But, as the tournament grew, the games were moved to Mills Park in the 1990s.

Teams come from all over to participate in this event, according to the bowl’s website.

Teams from throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are regularly represented.

“The tournament can boast that throughout the years Turkey Bowl alumni have gone on to play in a bigger arena, the NFL,” the site says, “Including Mike Alstott, Ron Ninkovich, and Eric Steinbach, who played for the New Lenox Mustangs, and Steve Breaston, Lousaka Polite, and Shawnter Spenser of the Woodland Hills Wolverines.”

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com