Turkey Bowl: Keep it or Kill it?

Turkey Bowl: Keep it or Kill it?

It is the day before our first break and everyone is exhausted from school. One day stands between you and your vacation: Turkey Bowl. Some choose to stay home and start an early break, some are forced to go by parents regardless of their feelings about the day, and some can’t wait to get out there and play football with their friends.

Love it or hate it, Turkey Bowl has been a tradition for over 20 years. But with annual attendance at the event hovering around 50% (according to an unnamed British administrator) Turkey Bowl may now be facing some severe changes.

In case you have not seen next year’s calendar, let me be the first to tell you that Thanksgiving break has been extended to a full week. This means Turkey Bowl would now have to be moved to the previous week or be cut out entirely.

In preparation for faculty and student debate about the issue, Mr. Brewer put together a sort of research paper on the day. Mr. Brewer will be reaching out for people to offer their opinions in person, however we offer you the opportunity to give your opinion now in the comments section of this article. Consider two key questions as you read his research paper offer your opinion.

  • Why has, student interest and attendance waned over the past few years?
  • Should Turkey Bowl continue?


The purpose of this exercise will be to help determine the future of Turkey Bowl at the Upper School level of The Out-Of-Door Academy. This tradition is over 20 years old and has changed several times over the years to adjust to; creation of an Upper School, movement of the Middle School, growing enrollment and diminishing student attendance. Here are the important questions to consider; should Turkey Bowl continue? How can we once again reinvent this tradition?

History of Turkey Bowl

To better understand our current situation it is necessary to look back to see where this all started. As stated above, Turkey Bowl is a tradition that started over 20 years ago. It all began in the late 1980s or early 1990s when ODA was a Pre-K – 8 located on Siesta Key.

During this time a History teacher named Mr. Sprout introduced the idea of Turkey Bowl to the ODA community. For many years, his extended family celebrated Thanksgiving together and always ended the day with a friendly game of touch football. Mr. Sprout approached the PE department and they came up with a way to incorporate Turkey Bowl into the PE curriculum.

The PE department was already utilizing a unit on flag football so “tweaking” the unit to allow for a Thanksgiving themed tournament seemed like a good idea. The Head Master was brought onboard and gave her blessing, Turkey Bowl was now moving from idea to institution. Turkey Bowl at the Lower School still uses the original model to this very day.

During PE, the coaches divide the students into even co-ed teams. Over the course of a few weeks, the teams compete against each other during PE class. As the tournament progresses the teams are narrowed down until eventually two teams remain. On the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, the two teams face off in the Turkey Bowl.

Traditionally, on this day back then, the entire school would celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional meal for lunch. The usual Thanksgiving fare was served and it was a big deal! At the conclusion of the meal, students would return to their classes for a period or two and then reconvene on the Athletic Field for the playing of the championship game, known as The Turkey Bowl.

At this time all grades played flag football during PE, but only grades 7 & 8 were showcased on this final day. On that special afternoon teachers could choose to stay inside and have class or go out and watch the Turkey Bowl games. In addition, parents were and still are invited to come watch the SK Turkey Bowl.This new way of finishing the school week prior to Thanksgiving mirrored Mr. Sprout’s family tradition perfectly and thus Turkey Bowl was invented.

In the late 1990s, when the 7th & 8th grade moved to the Lakewood Ranch Campus, Turkey Bowl was reinvented for the first time. When moving the MS to LWR there were many concerns that the MS would lose some of its unique identity and therefore risk losing students. Every effort was made to assure students and parents that the 7th & 8th grade would still enjoy the close knit “family” feeling that everyone had grown accustomed to.

In an attempt to retain the identity of the Middle School every tradition including Turkey Bowl were brought to the new campus. After watching this tradition the first year, the Upper School students and faculty wanted in. The inclusion of the US was viewed as a positive move but it did create the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Turkey Bowl.

Because US students did not take PE classes, the normal model could not be followed. This is the genesis of the Advisory Model. All grades at that time had four advisory groups. The PE department along with the Heads of Upper and Middle School created a scenario where all advisories would be place into a tournament that would all be played on the final day of school before break and would also include a challenge game between the Senior Class and the Faculty.

The day started with just a few classes, a traditional Thanksgiving lunch was served around 11:00 am, followed by a flag football tournament for each grade level. Four teams per grade, four games per tournament ending in a grade level champion. It was very simple and timing wise it worked like a charm.The day was capped off with the Senior v Faculty game and then all students were off on vacation.

In the early days, the surrender of academic time was justified by the fact that some students and families choose to leave early for vacation and the idea that the Thanksgiving meal and the football tournament gave the last day a “family like” fun way to end the first quarter of the school year.

Also, in those days advisors stayed with their groups throughout all 4 years of their US experience. This only served to heighten the competition and rivalries. This model worked for several years without issue. However, as our young school grew, four advisories gave way to five, six, and today our freshman class has seven advisory groups. As the numbers grew, the timings no longer worked.

Every year the discussion was put out to the faculty, “should this continue?” The answer was always “yes, preserve the tradition.” However, changes needed to be made in order to keep it; the morning classes were replaced by an Assembly, the traditional lunch was replaced by an on-field cookout.

As numbers grew so did the percentage of absenteeism. Family plans and student non-interest continued to raise issue. In recent years more changes have been made to try to keep non-football playing students involved and to allow for the needed time to complete the growing number of games that must be played each year.

The latest version of Turkey Bowl is the Brains & Brawn Model, which includes non-athletic events and flag football in an attempt to keep students involved and also keep the Advisory rivalries intact.


Now that you understand birth and development of Turkey Bowl, it is our hope that you will share your ideas on helping to solve the question of “what to do with Turkey Bowl”. Due to the declining student attendance and the move next year to a full week off at Thanksgiving, the question has already been raised, “What will become of Turkey Bowl?”

It is a reasonable conclusion that there will be a discussion about the future of Turkey Bowl. It is our hope to solicit the advice of the ODA student body now, in hopes of doing what is best for the school community.

Pleas share your comments below.