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From gridiron to board games, group activities unite generations

By PATRICK DUNNE | Gannett News Service

A shouting, riled-up crowd of fans clad in jerseys, face paint, and assorted costumes might not fit the traditional image of a family. Yet fans of sports teams create just that. The legions of people gathered in stadiums weekend after weekend are there because of a love for their teams. Win or lose, for good or bad, being together at a game creates the most memorable experiences.

Perhaps your family doesn’t put on sports fan war paint for holiday dinners and start a wave when the turkey comes out of the oven. However, recreation — spectator sports, participation sports, board games and other activities — are often essential parts of any gathering for family, neighbors, friends and extended family.

Frank Clemente, 58, says there is a simple reason families and fans come together to support professional teams. The sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University knows a thing or two about large family gatherings; he and his wife have eight kids and two grandchildren.

“People need to belong,” says Clemente. “It’s called the in-group theory. People have a basic need to belong to (unique) groups different from one another,” he says. “When fans are involved with a team, they become identified with the team.”

While most fans don’t play professional football, they feel connected with the team. “I have an aunt who knows nothing about football, but she loves the (Pittsburgh) Steelers,” says Clemente. The terms “we” and “us,” he says, are expanded to include the team in a family unit.

“It’s great socializing,” he says.

Certainly, National Football League players know the value of spending quality time with family. “Holidays remind you of how important family is,” says James Thrash of the Philadelphia Eagles.

As an NFL wide receiver, he has precious little time — if any at all — to visit with family during the holidays. Especially when his family is in Colorado and Nebraska. “Every time I get with my family, it’s cherished,” he says.

“People look too much into holidays as time to spend with the family, as if that’s the only time to do it,” says Thrash. “Every day should be treated as such.”

However, when the positive spirit of the family gathering is lost in favor of competition, sporting events can have a detrimental impact on families.

Clemente recalls such an experience. Sisters that lived in his neighborhood married and moved apart. One started a family in Houston, the other raised a family in Pittsburgh. After a few years, they reunited for Christmas in Pittsburgh. The reunion also fell on the 1979 AFC Championship game between the Steelers and the Houston Oilers.

The brothers-in-law would joke at each other’s team, until a Houston touchdown in the third quarter was ruled out of bounds. The touchdown would have tied the game and the call, combined with alcohol, incited a fight between the two men that broke furniture and the relationships of the two families.

Bring 'playing' field indoors

If your family’s team isn’t on the tube much this season, no need to worry.

An easy and fun way for the family to enjoy time together is to gather around some board games.

No, not “bored” games.

There are many types of games for every type of family, but it’s important to make certain the games are age-appropriate. You want the whole family to be able to participate.

Here are suggestions to help your family have a great time:

— Team games like air hockey or billiards are popular with people young and old. Families can develop their skills together by playing these games during holiday reunions. Setting up teams and creating family tournaments add to the fun.

— Party games like "Outburst” and “Pictionary,” are appropriate and fun for all age groups. Newer games based on popular TV shows like “Family Feud” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” allow everyone to pretend they’re contestants on their favorite program.

— Some family classics provide a great amount of fun with less energy expended, perfect for low-key affairs. Old favorites like Monopoly, checkers and chess still captivate players. Trivia games, like “Trivial Pursuit,” are perfect for families large and small because they can be played with individuals or with teams. Just make certain the game is appropriate for everyone's skill level.

For a list of popular board games from Hasbro, Milton Bradley, and Parker Bros., check out this Web site:

Video games are extremely popular and can certainly be fun and entertaining but only for a few people. Video games isolate family members who might otherwise enjoy a great time with their relatives. Pause the game, save your progress, and enjoy having fun with the family — the Mario Brothers can wait.

Whether you enjoy football, basketball or baseball; poker or "War"; “Trivial Pursuit” or “Scrabble”, chances are you can have a great time with all generations of your family through games, sports and other activities.

On the Web:

There are many online resources that will help plan holiday activities: lists many activities, sports and games complete with rules for ages 2-8. The site also has a family trip planner and many other tools for families to organize holiday fun. has the rules for every card game imaginable. Here families can read up on classic games like Old Maid, Go Fish and gin or find new family favorites. provides a search engine from Disney and easy access to ideas and rules for hundreds of indoor and outdoor games.