He remembers the first year. Bundled in blankets. Maybe as many as 15 blankets.
Still, he could only tolerate the cold for about 10 minutes.
It had been only five months since everything had changed.
But the one thing — maybe the only thing — that hadn’t changed was evident as Tommy McGuire looked out at the field where several years earlier he’d been calling signals and looking to hit his buddies with end-zone passes.
McGuire was now in a wheelchair but those same buddies — some of whom visited him every day the weeks he was in Westchester Medical Center and the more than four months that followed at Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital — were back out on the field.
The goal was no longer moving up in league standings or winning a rivalry game but playing to raise money for McGuire. They were no longer Clarkstown South Viking football players but post-college guys playing football for a forever friend.
Everything had changed, save for friendship and family.
That was 2016.
This Saturday, McGuire, who was paralyzed below the neck with a C3 spinal fracture suffered diving into a pool, will again look out on the field from his wheelchair. But, his condition improved, he won’t require layer upon layer of blankets as he did two years ago.
Last year’s fundraising game was scrapped due to COVID, but he expects to watch every game played in the four-hour tournament, held on his old high school football field.
The annual Tommy’s Turkey Bowl flag football tournament has raised close to $100,000.
That money has financed things like a wheelchair-accessible van and a wheelchair that puts McGuire in a standing position for at-home therapy to help with things like blood circulation, blood pressure and muscle tone.
This year, McGuire has asked that revenue from the 24-team, single-elimination tournament be divided. Some will go to him for technology allowing him to dictate words to a computer, erasing the need for an aide to type his dictated work.
And much will go to the New Jersey-based Push to Walk physical-therapy clinic, where McGuire receives twice-weekly, out-patient therapy that includes using a device that allows him to be upright and to walk with assistance.
McGuire, who initially was on a ventilator, unable to breathe on his own, also is put through strength exercises to bolster use of his arms and allow him to sit up for periods of time using his own muscles.
He has better use of his arms now than his hands. To play PlayStation, for instance, he must rely on a device that has him puff and sip through a straw to make moves.
His dad, Tom, said his son’s life is not easy, with every day and every hour of every day presenting hurdles.
“He really does his best to put a positive spin on it, but it’s a challenge,” Tom McGuire said.
His son, though, will say, “I’ve been fortunate and blessed with a lot of things. Daily life is going pretty well.”
And, while his life is replete with obstacles, McGuire compares himself to some other patients he sees at Push to Walk and counts himself lucky.
“When I go in, it puts my own situation in perspective,” he said, pointing to patients with less function, some with traumatic brain injuries.
Still others, he noted, don’t have the money for therapy, so, while some proceeds from Saturday are earmarked for the purchase of needed equipment for Push to Walk, money may also go to the clinic’s scholarship fund to allow for treatment of those who can’t pay.
The money will come from team registration fees, a suggested $10-per-person donation to watch the games, which are slated to run 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and from a mostly post-game gathering.
That will be 1-5 p.m. at the New City restaurant Norcina, where food and a drink will be provided for $15 per person (payable at the door) and football pools and raffles for things like golf, restaurant and store gift certificates and gift baskets will be held. Those in attendance will be able to be indoors or outside in a heated area.
The post-game gathering is usually almost as much a draw as the game, which includes hundreds of players and spectators, the players including McGuire’s brother, Andrew, with whom he shares living space in Haverstraw, and spectators including his dad and his mom, Lori.
But many of the players, spectators and those who go out later are simply members of the public, who want to support a good cause.
“The great part of the Clarkstown community is everyone is there for you. It’s really great seeing the outpouring of love. … In our county and Clarkstown community, everyone wants to help in any way they can,” said Alyssa Breslow, who was a year behind McGuire at South, graduating in 2012, and is on the Turkey Bowl Committee,
She also pointed to McGuire’s tight circle of high school friends, who, a decade after graduation, remain as close, even if they don’t all still live close.
Joe Taccetta, another Turkey Bowl Committee member, noted McGuire and Taccetta’s son, Joe, grew up playing sports together (the elder Taccetta coaching them in youth baseball), then roomed together at Manhattan College, where McGuire obtained a degree in marketing in 2016, not long before his accident.
In September, McGuire served as best man at the younger Taccetta’s wedding.
“Tommy is really a nice young man, who’s really liked by a lot of people. You know, it was just an unfortunate, tragic incident,” the elder Taccetta said, explaining the idea for the Turkey Bowl was born out of the desire by McGuire’s friends and the local community to create something sustainable that would continue to provide funds for his needs.
While he may participate in the cornhole games going on by the field Saturday, Taccetta will be largely parked on the sidelines for the football games, joking his joints can no longer handle even flag football.
Also on the sidelines will be Clarkstown South football coach Mike Scarpelli, who was also the Viking coach when McGuire played.
Scarpelli, who said he’ll set up the field, then cheer, has always cheered McGuire.
He describes the former all-Section 1 signal caller as a “coachable, smart, easy-to-talk with … extremely savvy,” do-it-all QB.
The support McGuire receives doesn’t surprise Scarpelli.
“Tommy has a lot of friends and people that care about him,” he said. “He’s a fun and happy person to be around. It’s contagious, his personality and sense of humor. When he enters a room, you (are) always glad to see him.’
Taccetta noted he has seen McGuire’s spirits rise over the years in conjunction with his physical improvements and said McGuire has been taking a bigger role in helping to plan the Turkey Bowl.
McGuire, who noted, “I navigate my cell phone with a joy stick,” originally had to use his head to control his powered wheelchair but now can use his arms.
Last spring, he accepted a part-time marketing job he really likes with Salesforce. He hopes, by becoming more independent with the help of the voice-activated composition tool he plans to have installed on his computer, that will turn into a full-time job next year.
“I keep progressing a little more here and there. I’ve made a lot of improvement over the last couple of years,” said McGuire, who’s grateful for both the in-patient treatment he received at Helen Hayes and his current outpatient treatment at Push to Walk.
He also credits his improvement to friends and family, remarking, “From the accident, friends and family have been around me 24/7.”
In turn, the Turkey Bowl has also been a kind of medicine or therapy.
“The people who show up help me mentally get through the day. I couldn’t progress mentally or physically as much without the support,” McGuire said, calling the games and post-game gathering “awesome.”
Players range in age from high school through middle age with both male and female participants. Many, McGuire said, are from his Clarkstown South class and classes several years younger and several years older.
“It’s almost turned into a mini high school reunion. It’s really great to see kids I haven’t seen or see once in a while,” McGuire said.
“I get the best of both worlds. It’s a friend and family reunion, too,” he said, noting aunts and uncles attend and, typically, 15-20 of his cousins play.
The tournament format means one loss and you’re out. At the end, a champion is crowned.
Ticking off some names, he pointed to former teammates Johnny Naclerio, a linebacker; Ryan Leonard, his center; and wide receivers Nick King and Cory Bits as being part of the sadly, appropriately-named One and Done squad.
“The only problem with the Turkey Bowl is seeing my friends’ team suffer without me playing quarterback. … They’re missing me,” McGuire said, laughing.
Nancy Haggerty covers cross-country, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, girls lacrosse and other sporting events for The Journal News/lohud. Follow her on Twitter at both @HaggertyNancy and at @LoHudHockey.