A Thanksgiving tradition borne three years ago in Watsonville—the Turkey Bowl—is about to take flight.
The annual two-hand-touch football tournament started by a Watsonville man who wanted to open up his holiday pigskin tradition to friends and neighbors is no longer small potatoes.This year, the winner of the round-robin tournament will be rewarded with a berth to the 7-on-7 Flag Football National Tournament Jan. 14-15 in Las Vegas.
"It was just friends, a holiday thing," said Vic Diaz, Turkey Bowl founder. "... I really like the way the competition is going."
Six teams—dominated by Watsonville players—battled it out on the field in 2009. Last year, seven teams competed, including one each from Santa Cruz and Salinas.
"The competition has grown," Diaz said. "Every year, they get a little better because they're pulling from the local high schools."
Both times, the victor was a team of and football alumni. But word is the defending champs plan to split into two teams this year to represent their respective alma maters.
To play, athletes pitch in $10 each. That money went to a winner-take-all pot in previous years. This Thanksgiving, Diaz would like to donate a portion of the money to a local charity. He's in talks with , a Watsonville nonprofit that provides support to children fighting cancer and their families.
"Doing things like this make me feel good I'm alive," said Diaz, who survived a harrowing accident on Highway 17 nearly six years ago. California Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Walker died in the New Years Eve 2005 crash. Diaz was standing next to Walker on the shoulder of the rain-soaked highway when a passing car struck the back of a parked CalTrans truck, pushing the vehicle forward. Diaz was hurt.
"When I had the accident, it changed me a lot," Diaz said. "Life can be a lot bigger."
So he linked his love of football with a streak of alturism to create the Turkey Bowl. Even though the tournament is six weeks away, teams are forming, according to Diaz.
"They're practicing already," he said.
Most participants are in their 20s, former South County high school football players A recent practice drew 40 players, teams are signing on coaches and some squads will field 14 players so they can designate offensive and defensive players. "I think it's pretty cool that the athletes can pull together."