Reese Coggeshall, a fifth-grader at V.L. Murray Elementary School, dodges first-grade teacher Don Healy at the school’s annual Turkey Bowl flag football game. The fifth-graders won, 36-30. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The fifth grade at Virginia L. Murray Elementary School defeated a team of faculty and staff at the school’s 11th annual Turkey Bowl flag football game Friday with a score of 36-30. The fifth-grade team is 10-0-1 in the series.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Jeff Garrison, a Murray grandparent who volunteered as a coach for the students. “They were great sports and got everyone involved in the game.”

First-grade teacher Don Healy returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play of the game. In the fifth-grade’s next drive, Ronan MacDonald ran a successful quarterback sneak that set up a rushing touchdown by fullback Nino Gristina.

The two teams continued to score on alternating possessions and were tied at 24-24 late in the fourth quarter. While a vocal crowd of younger students watching from a nearby hillside showed support for both sides, the fifth-grade team received the loudest cheers.

Mark Green, principal of the Albemarle County school, started at quarterback for the faculty team and stayed under center for the full game.

“Mr. Green is an awesome quarterback,” MacDonald said. “I thought he and the teachers were going to beat us.”

Murray’s fourth-grade teachers, Mendy St. Ours and Christianna Schork, were among Green’s top receiving targets. The young teachers brought fresh legs to a Murray roster that had shown signs of wear after a decade of punishing Turkey Bowl games.

Momentum shifted to the fifth-graders when Matthew Lapinsky intercepted a pass from Green, then threw a touchdown pass to Collin Kershisnik, giving the student team a 30-24 lead with five minutes remaining.

“I really wanted to catch the ball on that play,” Kershisnik said. “Once I got past the first teacher, I knew I could make it to the end zone.”

On the next drive, Green tossed a long pass to custodian Isaac Brown, who would have scored if not for a quick stop by defender Danielle Love.

“It felt really awesome to make that tackle,” Love said. “I think it was an important play.”

The teachers missed another chance to tie the game when Healy dropped a pass in the end zone, which resulted in a turnover on downs.

Fifth-grader Cole McGinty sealed the teachers’ fate, scrambling nearly the full length of the field as quarterback to put his team ahead 36-24. 

Schork ran the ball in for a score as time expired, bringing the final score to 36-30. The fifth-grade bench rushed onto the field in celebration, then lined up to high-five their opponents.

“It’s fun to have a little friendly competition with the students,” said third-grade teacher Jenn Donalson. “The students have been looking forward to this game for their entire time at Murray.”

Three of Donalson’s children have attended Murray and played in the Turkey Bowl. “The kids look back at these games as a fond memory; they will never forget it,” she said. 

This year’s Turkey Bowl was officiated by Craig Dommer, assistant principal at Henley Middle School, and Patrick McLaughlin, strategic planning officer for Albemarle Public Schools. 


Josh Mandell

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.