Thirty-five years ago, I bought a home in the Magnolia subdivision in West Ashley and soon joined some of the neighborhood kids in playing touch football on the playground bounded by Anita and Jerry drives.
Before long, football games, and in warmer weather softball and baseball contests, became a daily routine at the playground. Some of my adult friends, including The Post and Courier's Fred Smith, and my brothers, Jerry, Tom and Tim, sometimes joined in. What followed was years of good fun and sportsmanship, but it virtually ended as the youths who took part went on to colleges and careers, and I moved from the neighborhood in 1989.
Over the years, many of us remained in contact. More recently, we found ourselves reminiscing via Facebook and unable to resist the temptation of at least one more football game on our favorite field.
On Nov. 5, fantasy became a reality: The men who were kids back when the football games began joined the graybeards who were spry adult mentors long ago in an event called the "Turkey Bowl Reunion."
Turkey Bowl refers to the tradition of four Fennell brothers facing off two-on-two for the household football title when we were much younger than today. The game got bigger later when we invited friends to join in, and at one time it was played annually, alternating between Charleston and St. Stephen.
But the Anita Drive field hosted most of the Turkey Bowls played.
Rod Oomens and Jamie Lloyd, now 42 but just 7 when they first took part in neighborhood football, arrived early for the reunion to prepare the gridiron. As was done many years ago, Oomens and Lloyd stretched string between wooden stakes and spray-painted lines on the grass. Soon, more of us who still cherish the competition and camaraderie we knew long ago arrived, and many brought wives, husbands, sons and daughters. Several traveled from other states to take part.
Back in the day, some of our football games were taped using the Betamax home video system, and for the reunion, a volunteer preserved the action with a modern HiDef digital camera.
"This is one of the most unusual reunions I ever heard of, and the most fun," Tim Fennell, 50, said. "Everyone seems to have stayed in shape and can still play ball. I've seen a few people go horizontal trying to make a catch."
Todd Oomens, 40, brother of Rod, helped organize the reunion and noted that 35 years ago the neighborhood was well-populated with kids.
"It was the perfect neighborhood to grow up in, and I've got a lot of fond memories," he said. "It was a pretty tight-knit group, and it means a lot to so many of us again. Everyone is older, fatter, balder and wiser."
"This was our sanctuary back here," said Lloyd. "It was great sharing old memories and reconnecting with friends." He added that he loved being able to introduce the group and the game to his sons.
Heather Jenkins Butler, my stepdaughter and just 7 when she played her first football game, paid me a dear compliment when she described me as "the neighborhood rec director. You got everybody interested in football and sports, and you can see it in how many of them came out today. We had fun here," she said.
Roy "Bubba" Pound, 39, who was a diminutive lad, described himself as being "the runt of the neighborhood" decades ago. "I at least caught up with everybody," he noted, expressing relief that he grew into an average-size adult.
Mike Wiggins, 50, remembered mostly playing basketball games on my backyard court, where one hoop was the standard 10 feet above the concrete and the other 8 feet. The low rim made dunking contests possible for mere mortals. "This is something that should become an annual event," Wiggins added.