Former high school athletes reunite for alumni matches

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006

Click here to enlarge this photo
Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Bethesda-Chevy Chase field hockey coach Amy Wood (left) laughs with Julia Kelderman (center) and Eleanor Morgan, both of whom graduated in 2001, at the first B-CC field hockey alumni game on Saturday.

Billy Brunner blames Thanksgiving Day for his sore muscles. The broccoli casserole and corn pudding aren’t at fault. Rather, it was a group of men less than half his age that kept him sprinting up and down a muddy field at the annual Winston Churchill High School Soccer Alumni Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl.

For many alumni from Montgomery County high schools, returning home for the holiday this year meant more than home-cooked meals and hugs from relatives. Thanksgiving weekend also provided a chance to reconnect with old teammates and celebrate the values and traditions of high school sports.

‘‘It’s not just something we did in high school,” said Brunner, 45, who has played in every Turkey Bowl since he graduated from Churchill in 1979. ‘‘Soccer’s the kind of game where you can kick a ball around with a friend. It’s fun, and it’s social now more than anything else.”

Brunner was one of about 60 Churchill men’s soccer alumni that came out Thursday morning, despite the wet and muddy conditions, to play in the 30th annual Turkey Bowl. Every Thanksgiving, dozens of Churchill soccer alumni return to their alma mater to challenge the current year men’s varsity Bulldogs.

A similar tradition began Saturday at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School for women’s field hockey alumnae.

Nearly 40 B-CC field hockey players from the 1980s through 2006 gathered on the football field for a rousing game of younger verses older alumnae. Most were wearing T-shirts, gym shorts and running shoes. No cleats or shin guards were required — just a love for the game.

‘‘It’s fun to reconnect with youth and be young again,” said Nicole Kramer Mitchell who traveled from Baltimore with her husband and two young children to attend her 20-year class reunion Friday night. ‘‘If you want to feel young, it’s important to do the things you enjoy.”

The Churchill soccer alumni have won 28 of 30 contests against their younger rivals. Thursday’s game was no exception when they won 8-1. Churchill varsity coach Dave Kelley said the large alumni team had the advantage against only 10 players representing this year’s team.

‘‘The alumni guys looked awfully good this year; they were moving with fresh legs and pinging the ball around pretty nicely,” Kelley said. ‘‘They have an appreciation for the game of soccer and want to keep it in their lives.”

While some alumni also play college or recreational soccer, many strap on their cleats just once a year at the Turkey Bowl.

‘‘For about four years I was playing soccer once every 365 days,” said Seth Hall, one of the Turkey Bowl organizers from the Churchill class of 1992. ‘‘It was a fairly common ritual of me coming home, searching for the cleats and scraping off the mud from last year, making sure they still fit.”

Hall, who now lives in Philadelphia, spends Thanksgiving in Montgomery County every year so he won’t miss the Turkey Bowl.

‘‘It’s gotten to the point that my family would never ever ask for me to go anywhere else on Thanksgiving because they know about the Turkey Bowl,” he said. ‘‘It’s sort of become bigger than all of us; so many people come out [for the game].”

In B-CC’s first match-up between women’s field hockey alumnae, the older team won 2-0 with help from the younger team that volunteered to go without a goalie. Game organizers said they plan to continue the tradition next year and beyond.

Each player donated $25 to help raise funds for the newly formed Raymond Locke Foundation. The foundation was organized in honor of field hockey dad and youth-sports enthusiast Raymond Locke, who died suddenly last year at the age of 49.

Locke’s wife, Maria Giovanni, and eldest daughter, Abby Locke, serve on the board of directors for the foundation that seeks to promote field hockey among underprivileged girls in the community.

‘‘He would love to see this; this would totally be his thing,” Abby Locke, 19, said about what her father would think of Saturday’s game where she reunited with former B-CC teammates. ‘‘It’s really exciting to play together. There are girls I haven’t seen since I graduated, and they all knew my dad.”

Locke’s younger sister, Samantha, was just named team captain for the 2007 B-CC field hockey team. Abby Locke, a sophomore at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, plays left-back for her school’s field hockey team and hopes to coach the sport in the future.

Another B-CC field hockey alumna, Nicole Kramer Mitchell traveled from Baltimore with her husband and two young children to attend her 20-year class reunion Friday night. Before leaving home, she rummaged through her basement for her old hockey stick and threw it in the car because she’d heard there was going to be an alumnae game.

She said the stick was so covered with dust that she sneezed during the whole ride. But when she arrived at the high school on Saturday morning, game organizers gave her a makeshift mouth guard and sent her to join the other alumnae on the field.

‘‘It’s exhilarating to me,” Mitchell, 38, said. ‘‘Fall has always been about running out and playing in the cool air. I was out there, and I smelled that mud in the wet field, and I could have been 17 again.”