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The South End’s Annual Turkey Bowl Brings Celebration and Service to Seattle All November - FlagSpin

The South End’s Annual Turkey Bowl Brings Celebration and Service to Seattle All November

by Troy Landrum Jr.

The 9th Annual Turkey Bowl — a community-wide week of sports, games, and service — has arrived in the South End once more for 2023. This South End tradition is steeped in a history of getting the community involved in brag-worthy football games and dinners, and benefiting the community through acts of service. This annual event is led year after year by community builder and youth developer Cortez Charles and his organization, the Fatherhood Accountability Movement, aka F.A.M., which allows the work of this one-week event to last year-round by giving young people a place to continue to scratch that itch for service and to be embraced by the community they call home.

The Turkey Bowl has been a staple in the South End and talked about locally for many years, and has recently gained national attention. Fox News recorded this year’s game and will include footage from it in the Thanksgiving Day NFL pregame telecast.

The South End community has continued to marvel at the event’s ability to transform, build on their successes, and reach new heights every year — whether it’s turning Turkey Bowl Day into Turkey Bowl Week, expanding its service reach to places as far away as Tacoma, or making a long-lasting impact by gathering together community organizations, professional athletes, and professional sports teams to make an even bigger impact for the South End.

Every year we ask the same question with great anticipation: “What will be different about the Turkey Bowl this year?” And each year, Charles and F.A.M. rise to the occasion and answer that question brilliantly. This year, along with the Turkey Bowl Week community dinner and annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl football game, Charles and the F.A.M organization will be serving 1,000 turkey sandwiches,1,000 hygiene kits, and 1,000 warming kits to the tiny home village on South 140th Street and Military Road South.

This year, Turkey Bowl Month will last throughout November, with the participation of the Seattle Majestics — an all-woman professional flag football team — the Rainier Beach High School Girls Flag Football team, and little league teams.

(Flyers courtesy of F.A.M.)

James Baldwin once said, “We have to know where we come from to know where we are going.” Charles and his organization know where they come from and have done the deep reflection necessary to sustain the program all these years. For him, this year is about inspiring the other person and hopefully inspiring a multitude of Turkey Bowls throughout the state and quite possibly the country.

“We are the keepers of the flame,” said Charles.

What started in 1959 as a football game founded by Charles E. Sampson between the east and west sides of West Monroe, Louisiana, grew to be a tradition. “What we got out of it was bragging rights; if you lose, you hear about it the whole year,” said Sampson of the first Turkey Bowl games.

In 1969, Sampson moved from Louisiana to Seattle, during the time when approximately six million Black people migrated from Southern states where Jim Crow laws were still being upheld to states in the North, Midwest, and West. With him came other family members and the tradition of the Turkey Bowl, which over the years expanded from its neighborhood roots as Sampson and his brother James realized their desire to make the Turkey Bowl “more than a game,” and a way of serving the community. The brothers focused their attention on giving to Northwest Harvest, a food justice network. “If my brother hadn’t had done that, I don’t think the [family game], it wouldn’t have expanded for 18 years,” said Sampson. “What started off with bragging rights has evolved to changing lives.”

This desire to serve others changed the trajectory of the Turkey Bowl, but it wasn’t just the conversation with his brother that refocused Sampson’s mind. Serving others and bringing people together had been rooted in who Sampson was since childhood when he took on responsibility for his family at the tender age of 15 after his father died.

In 2015 a young kid named Cortez called his Uncle Charles up and asked for his blessing to continue the Turkey Bowl tradition and nine years later, here we are.

That question, “What will be different about this year?”, is a chance for us to glimpse back into the past and honor the titans who made this South End tradition possible. It also gives us a chance to further support and be a part of all that the Turkey Bowl brings. Lastly, it reminds us that to Cortez, his family, his Uncle Charles, and his community this Turkey Bowl is more than a game.

A message from Cortez Charles to sponsors, community members, and family:

“I would like to first thank my wife De’Andra Charles for her constant support and everything she does behind the scenes. I also want to thank the following community partners: The Fatherhood Accountability Movement for their vision and leadership in making this happen every year; Jeff Solomon, Durrell Green, Jhitana Ball, Allie Steinburg, Charlina Green; Seattle Parks and Recreation Adult Athletics for their consistent support; Jayson Powell and Chukundi Salisbury; Rainier Beach Community Center for hosting every year; and Martha Winther. I want to thank both Rainier Beach High School (Cory Sampson) and Renton High School (Mark Cross) football teams for their commitment to serve in the Turkey Bowl Week and play in the youth game every year. I also want to thank all of our community partners, too many to name, but who have contributed to our cause in any way over all these years. I would like to thank my Uncle Charles E. Sampson for being a visionary and a trailblazer by starting this Turkey Bowl in 1959 and coupling it with serving the community.”

Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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