An 11-year NFL career that included five Super Bowl appearances and three Pro Bowl selections provided Matt Light some of his greatest moments in life.
But reminiscing about effort, determination and ultimately success on a different field had Matt Light beaming Friday evening. Light, the Greenville High School graduate and former offensive lineman with the New England Patriots, was kicking off his ninth annual Youth Wild Turkey Hunt at the Fraternal Order of Eagles near Greenville.
Light, himself a lifelong hunter, told the story of dragging a young hunter named Maria Coyle “through the mud and the muck” on a difficult outing a few years ago.
“Her boots came off three times. She never stopped. She never quit. She got frustrated. I think we both did. But when she ended up getting that bird it was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever seen,” Light said.
Light’s Youth Wild Turkey Hunt selects 16 Darke County residents between the ages of 12-17 to spend a weekend with Light and some of turkey hunting’s biggest stars. They gathered at the FOE for the official send-off Friday night. The program is one of a handful sponsored by the Light Foundation.
Participants are judged and selected on essays. During the weekend the hunters learn how to use turkey calls and decoys, gun safety, youth leadership and when to take a safe shot.
“Every year I’m reminded of why we do it,” Light said. “I forget most of the hunts I do it when it’s just me. But I can honestly do a play-by-play on every hunt I’ve had with these kids.”
Arcanum seventh-grader Allison Whiting participated in the hunt last year. She didn’t bag a turkey but remains confident she’ll get one this time with the single-shot 20-gauge shotgun.
“Yeah, I’m getting one this year,” Whiting said. “It was really fun last year. I made a lot of new friends.”
Light calls on a few of his own to help make the event a success. Among the guides are Jamestown’s Bob Fulcher, a national champion turkey caller, and Ernie Calandrelli of Quaker Boy Game Calls.
Through the year Light’s 450-acre Chenoweth Trails facility will serve more than 5,000 people. He said he has three local employees on the payroll. The rest are volunteers, like the 40 who will help this weekend as guides, spotters and drivers to get the hunters into the field. About 30 land owners also allow the hunters to use their property.
“If these kids knew how many hours everyone spent on their behalf they’d be blown away,” Light said.
“It tells you the job of the team that I’ve got. While I may not have a quarterback (New England’s Tom Brady) wearing No. 12, I’ve got arguably a more impressive roster with the guys we do have. The work they’re doing is really life changing. Some of these kids who have been on the turkey hunt have asked to come back and help out. To me that speaks volumes.”
About 45 Darke County youth submitted applications this year, Light said. The process opens in December and applications are available at mattlight72.com.
Hunters fortunate enough to land a turkey are required to tell the group their story. Embellishment isn’t frowned upon.
“There’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood,” Light said. “The camaraderie of being around each other and enjoying camp and telling hunt stories, which is big for us. Every kid that shoots a bird has to get up and tell the story. It gets a little animated and just like every fish gets bigger, every turkey hunt story gets better. … Turkeys gobble, they look goofy and they taste great. You can’t go wrong with that combination.”
About 10 turkeys were taken last year. Hunters have the option of having them mounted or breasted.
“I think it’ll be one of those things they look back on and say, ‘Man, that was a cool moment in my life.’ And maybe it becomes a lifelong addiction,” Light said. “You have one opportunity to seal the deal. Hunting is as intense and as much fun as any football game I’ve ever played in.”