It began about 10 years ago — no one remembers the year — when Joe Federspiel drove up to his Lakeside Drive home on Thanksgiving Day and saw his neighbor, Tom Kluemper, raking leaves.
It was just too nice of a day to be wasted on honey-do jobs or television, Federspiel thought, so he shouted an invitation to Kluemper.
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"'Hey, football game at Henry Clay. Join us!'" Kluemper remembers. "So we did."
On Thursday, Federspiel and Kluemper lined up again for touch football at the Henry Clay High School football field in Lexington.
The 2008 edition of a neighborhood tradition they call simply "the game" attracted about 20 other players, who arrived and departed as their schedules demanded, plus a small group of spectators.
Several generations of Lakewood-area families, including some who have moved away, return to Henry Clay every year at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to reconnect with their roots.
Other players have never lived in the area but have been invited to join this game of "backyard football" in which the rules and the score matter less than the people.
"It's great fun. I love the competition. I love just getting together, the fellowship — that's probably more attractive to me than anything," Kluemper said.
"Everybody knows that if you are in town, come to the game. You might not have seen some of these people since last year, but, by golly, if it wasn't for the game, you wouldn't see them until next year."
The game is not just for guys. Women and girls are welcome, and so are senior citizens. A man in his 80s played one year, and children younger than 10 have carried the ball, Kluemper said.
Beth Kloiber caught a pass and scored a touchdown Thursday. She also "took out" one of her three sons who were in the game.
"What better way to spend the day than exercising and laughing — a lot better than watching TV or shopping at the mall," Kloiber said. "We enjoy each other and we like to laugh — and we do laugh a lot."
And with sunshine and temperatures in the 40s for most of the two hours of play, "it's a beautiful day," said Stacey McGoodwin, who came with her family.
"Sometimes it's been freezing out here," she said. "With the sunshine, it couldn't be any better."
Fresh air and warmth are invigorating, she said, "before you start eating your life away."
Neighborhood football games are also played in Maryland, said Cheryl Riehl of Crofton, Md., who was in Lexington to visit Kloiber. "Our weather is not as nice as this most of the time — and we don't play on such a nice field. It's wonderful."
She was referring to the artificial grass on the Henry Clay football field.
Federspiel, an assistant football coach at the school, said the Thanksgiving game began when the field was natural grass.
It often had standing water and mud puddles left over from the high school football season. Players, and even spectators, were sometimes dropped in mud puddles after the game, Federspiel and Kluemper remembered.
"We just started playing and it continued year after year," Federspiel said. "We've had people come from all over to play. ... It's exercise that gets you away from the TV and out of the kitchen. It's just good fun."
But two hours of football before Thanksgiving dinner is not a formula for weight-loss, Kloiber said. "You eat more and more and more, and then you nap, and eat again. It makes you hungry!"