Crochet star warms up the Super Bowl

You can’t miss them. The blue and white woven scarves are everywhere in Indianapolis, host city for Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. And even though the temperatures are unseasonably toasty this week, the Super Bowl volunteers wearing these distinctive handcrafted symbols of hospitality are reveling in the warmth they provide.

That’s exactly how Bev Meska wants it.

“One out of every 37 volunteers will be wearing one of my scarves,” says Meska, 82, a retired school secretary from Michigan City, Ind. who claims the title of the most prolific scarf maker for the Indianapolis Host Committee’s “Super Scarves” project, which launched two years ago.

Meska started out with her single-hook crochet needle and two skeins of yarn. Four hours later, she had made one six-foot scarf – blue and white, patterned. Then she made another. And another. Each had different designs, adorned with either fringe or tassels.

“I bought $25 worth of yarn at a time, to make sure I was going to use all of that,” Meska says.

By the time she finished, “I had made over 300 scarves,” says Meska, who hand-delivered 250 to the organizing committee.

Organizers hoped for about 8,000 knitted, crocheted and woven scarves, one from each participant in the project, to be delivered for the army of unpaid volunteers blanketing Indianapolis. The idea was to make the volunteers distinctive to visitors — much like host cities do during Olympic Games — while keeping them warm in a normally frosty city in early February.

“Two years ago, we asked people in Indiana to knit scarves for our volunteers, many of which will be working outside,” says Allison Melangton, president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Host Committee. “It started out as an Indiana project, and it reached out across the globe.”

So much so, the host committee received more than 13,000 scarves from thousands of craftspeople hailing from 46 states as well as South Africa, the UK, Belgium and Canada.

“Vanna White knitted one for us,” adds committee spokeswoman Dianna Boyce.

And White isn’t even from Indiana. “No,” says Boyce, “but she enjoys knitting.”

The only requirement was that the scarves be blue and white. The committee then had a Super Bowl XLVI logo sewn on each one before distributing them to the volunteers late last week.

“When people prepared the scarves, either knitting or crocheting or some other way, we got them to include a note with the scarf to say who knitted it and wishing the volunteer well,” Melangton says.

For Meska, that was no small feat.

As her handmade scarf collection grew, she called upon a high-tech solution for the individual notes.

“I downloaded the stationery with the Super Bowl logo at the top, which was on the website,” Meska says, “and then I typed on my computer a comment to the volunteer. I saved that, and then I printed out the comment for each one.”

How did Meska get involved? After her daughter emailed her a link to the Super Scarves project, the lifelong crochet lover — she began creating afghans at age 16 — began crocheting nonstop. Each scarf required three to four hours of handiwork.

“I needed something to do to fill my time after I retired,” Meska says, “plus I love to crochet and I had run out of projects. So I just kept going.”

Her cheering section was her 12-year-old great-grandson, Ben Fore-Knight, who watched Colts games and other sports on television with her while Meska worked her magic with the crochet needle.

The Super Scarves initiative also included a unique group of participants — an inmate group from the Indianapolis Re-Entry Facility calling itself “The Naptown Knitters.” YouTube videos helped teach the state inmate team how to create more than two dozen Super Scarves.

Two years ago, Super Bowl XLVI Host chairman Mark Miles thought the scarf project was pretty wacky.

“At the time it didn’t register with me,” Miles says, “I thought the idea of getting 8,000 scarves was preposterous.”

This week, Miles is wearing a Super Scarf knitted by a surgeon. “He does surgery for breast cancer,” Miles says proudly, “and he taught himself how to knit for this project.”

On Super Sunday when the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots, Meska and Ben, her great grandson and inspiration, will be in the seats inside Lucas Oil Stadium as guests of the host committee.

Until then, 156 miles north of Indianapolis on the shore of Lake Michigan, Meska is enjoying her status as the Super Scarf champion. And she’s relishing the handwritten responses she is receiving from the lucky volunteers who are proudly wearing her crocheted contributions to Indiana’s first Super Bowl.

“In two days, I had received three replies. In a week’s time, I have received 13 cards or letters and five of them sent me a picture of them wearing my scarf,” Meska says. “It surprised me that I had four notes from men, young and old. And I am replying to each person that sends me a thank-you for my scarf.”

She is sending each of them a picture of herself at the beach at Lake Michigan, crocheting the scarves that surround them with her unique brand of warmth.

Get information on the Super Scarves project here.