Annual Turkey Bowl raises money for Penn Hills Service Association

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Six years ago, a Washington Elementary student was diagnosed with leukemia. Bill Russell of Penn Hills found out about it through his son, who was best friends with the student.

“So I was sitting around thinking, ‘How can we raise some money this time of year?'” Russell said.

Russell approached former Penn Hills assistant and current Franklin Regional head football coach Greg Botta with his idea.

“Since western Pennsylvania is such a big football area, we thought, why don't we have a game of parents against teachers?” Russell said.

And so it was that the first Washington Elementary Turkey Bowl took place, raising several hundred dollars, which was given to a needy Penn Hills family identified through the school.

Over the years, the format has changed to benefit the Penn Hills Service Association (PHSA), the food pantry and clothing distribution center in Universal.

“Pretty soon we realized there was more than one family in need,” Russell said.

“Because the PHSA helps so many families in the community, I thought, ‘Why not just help them?' So we've raised money and collected canned good and we donate it to the PHSA.”

Botta said the Turkey Bowl — which took place this year on Nov. 16 — is a reflection of the caring attitude inside Washington Elementary.

“We've always been a school concerned with the people in the community,” Botta said, “and it's just our way of giving back, whether it's an individual or a family in some type of need. The teachers and principal grabbed onto it, and we've had a great time.”

This year's Turkey Bowl saw the parents' team topping the school's staff members, 4-3.

Russell said the game has sparked a real sense of community in his children.

“It's a good time,” he said. “You have kids sitting on the hillside, either cheering their parents and booing their teachers or vice versa. It's a lot of fun.”

In recent years, Washington Elementary Head Teacher Randy Shelton has taken over planning for the Turkey Bowl, and Russell said he has been instrumental in continuing the tradition.

“Mr. Shelton and all the teachers and staff there, they've all been a huge help,” Russell said. “Everybody just really comes together.”

As not just a former assistant but also a former student and football player, Botta said he likes the positive attention the Turkey Bowl brings to Penn Hills.

“To see traditions carried on is a vital thing in any community and with something like this, I'm glad the teachers and the PTA have continued to do it,” he said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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