How Turkey Bowl for MS went from gridiron to bowling alley
Brian Quick was a freshman at Lisle High School when his little sister, Lisa, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Tough thing for a young girl to hear. Tough thing for her brother, too.
So Brian did what big brothers do: He looked for a way to help Lisa and, in the process, support others like her.
This was 1975 and he got his buddies together, his crew, and organized a touch football game on the day after Thanksgiving.
They called it the Turkey Bowl and they pledged to play for eight hours and asked everyone they knew to contribute a few cents for every point they scored.
Lisa came out to cheer them on and everybody had a good time and worked off some gravy and mashed potatoes.
Turns out it wasn't a one-time thing.
Every year since, for the past 40-odd years, Brian has continued organizing the game. The guys got older, of course, and it became more challenging to get those aging muscles loose in the cold and the snow and the mud. Some of them started bringing their kids to play in their place. The games got shorter -- from eight hours to six to three to two.
Still, Brian and his buddies kept playing and raising money for Lisa and the MS Society. Over the years, they collected $145,775.
And then last year, it finally happened: the Turkey Bowl had to be canceled. Now in their 50s, there just weren't enough guys to play anymore.
For Brian, it was fourth down and long. He still wanted to raise money for Lisa and the MS Society but football no longer was the answer.
So Brian did what big brothers do when faced with the choice of punting or going for it: He audibled and called a trick play, this year organizing a bowling tournament instead.
He's reserved eight lanes from noon to 2 p.m. for the day after Thanksgiving at Lisle Lanes, 4920 Lincoln Ave., and he's hoping to get at least 40 people to join him as part of the revamped fundraiser.
For $60 you can rent a pair of shoes and bowl three games. Ten bucks will go to Lisle Lanes, the rest will go to Lisa or the MS Society to support its aquatic exercise programs.
If you want to join him, or to just donate, you can call Brian at (630) 779-4081 or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We can still raise a couple grand," Brian says. "That's not too shabby."
The good news is you don't have to run around on frozen grass and risk popping a hammy to help out.
The better news, Brian says, is "by making it a bowling tournament, I don't even have to change the name."
It's still the Turkey Bowl.
Labor of love
When Brian and the guys played the first Turkey Bowl, Lisa was on the sidelines. Over the years, it's gotten harder for her and there's no guarantee she'll be at this year's event.
She uses a wheelchair and sometimes a walker to get around. She has trouble sleeping. But recent changes to her diet and an increased emphasis on nutrition seem to be helping her cope with the disease that causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.
The signs and symptoms of MS vary widely and there's no known cure.
Some days, Brian says, Lisa has "a lot of pop and energy." Others not so much.
But through it all, he says, his sister tries to look at the world through rose-colored glasses.
"She's probably the toughest person I know," he says.
That toughness motivated Brian to create the first Turkey Bowl and to keep playing.
"I'd put everything I could into it physically," he says. "At the end of the game, I'd try to be as sore as humanly possible. Our feelings of exhaustion and pain would only last for a few days; Lisa has to live with it every day."
But whether the Turkey Bowl involves football or bowling doesn't really matter, he says. What really matters is getting together with friends he's known forever and doing something good.
"It's been pretty cool to have my guys continue to support it, either by playing or just coming out and donating," Brian says. "That camaraderie of people coming together and supporting a cause, that's pretty cool to keep it going."
This year they won't come together on a football field. This year they'll come together in a bowling alley. But they'll still be coming together for something greater than themselves.
"It's a labor of love," Brian says, "and you know you're doing something for my sister and for other people."
A labor of love. That's what big brothers do.
"We may not be able to play football any more," Brian says, "but dammit, we can bowl for two hours."