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Turkey bowling time at San Clemente school

Eleven-year-old Christian Harris reared back and rolled the 11-pound frozen turkey with all his might across a plastic tarp toward 10 waiting bowling pins. He was intent on making Thanksgiving history.

Could the Pilgrim-Indian Alliance beat the teachers in St. Michael's Christian Academy's 17th annual Turkey Bowl?

"You just try to make it so it doesn't spin," said Ellie Harris, 12, describing her bowling technique.

But victory wasn't to be for the kids, as the teachers turned back the alliance, 58-42, to a cacophony of Indian war cries and raucous Pilgrim taunts.

Click here to watch a video of the turkey bowling action.

Every year, St. Michael's of San Clemente rolls into Thanksgiving break by inviting students to let off a little steam by dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians for a turkey-bowling match on the playground.

Classroom studies about the birth of the Plymouth colony and the story of how the natives helped the newcomers survive a devastating first winter in America are over. Now it's time for a little fun.

"It's awesome," Harris said. "You get to fling a turkey."

Sometimes the bowling match pits the Pilgrims vs. the Indians, a modern spin on games that the English colonists and the Pokanokets may have shared during the 1621 feast at Plymouth, Mass., that inspired the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

This year's bowling match, with the Pilgrims and Indians teaming up against the teachers, did have some historical context. At Thanksgiving 1621, the Pilgrims were celebrating the survival of the English colonists who hadn't died during that brutal first winter. The natives were celebrating a Pilgrim-Pokanoket alliance that they were hoping would help protect them from their fierce rivals the Narragansetts.

"We wanted to have fun," St. Michael's Principal Phil Johnson said of Friday's festivities. "It was a fun way to relieve a little school pressure right before Thanksgiving break. In our class, we teach our kids to love their neighbors, regardless of who that neighbor is. We incorporate parts of that when we feed the poor. We occasionally have the kids assist us in feeding the poor. Those kinds of things that we do, we take very seriously. But there are times, also, just to have a good time and be a kid."

What becomes of the turkeys? "We eat them," Johnson said. "There's nothing wrong with them. They're banged around a little bit, but they're frozen. They're fine."

Some of the turkeys might even make it onto the dinner table at St. Michael's on Thursday, when the church hosts Marine Corps families from Camp Pendleton for Thanksgiving dinner, Johnson said.

Ellie Powers, a member of the Pilgrim-Indian Alliance, reflected on Friday's festivities.

"It's fun because you get to dress up," she said. "It's very ethnic. It's just fun to celebrate Thanksgiving. It means being thankful for our freedom and to be able to have freedom of religion and thank God for what he does for us."


Johnson, who conducts St. Michael's food outreach forthe poor, said it occurs at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays at the church, 107 W. Avenida Marquita, San Clemente. Learn more at 949-366-9480.

Contact the writer: or 949-492-5127

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