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The most wonderful time of the year – Thanksgiving Day High School Football Rivalries

By John Cardullo, sports writer

As the high school “Fall” sports calendar winds down and the championship games get played in each sport, all eyes are focused on THE one day – and, no, it isn’t Superbowl weekend, it’s the annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry games. This is a time when cross town, cross city, or cross state teams get together and exchange pleasantries with only one goal in mind, to ruin the other teams Thanksgiving. Tailgating by alumni is a standard tradition, the bands are ready to play, and the cheerleaders are eager to perform. The student body past, present and future are in attendance, so let the games begin!

The teams involved in this annual tradition can be 10-0 or 0-10, this is the only day that the records don’t matter, the success or failure of the past season fades into a not so distant memory. On Thanksgiving Day what happened over the past season is thrown out the window and the success of the season squarely is on the shoulders of the Thanksgiving Day game.

“Everything is ramped up for this game, this is the only game where the current student body, faculty and alumni of all ages from both schools are in the stands” says former Cranston West head football coach Steve Stoehr, whose Cranston West teams have over the years battled cross town rival Cranston East for bragging rights to the city championship for an entire year. “To lose that game is worse than losing the state championship in many cases. The Thanksgiving Day game is the only game that each team want to win no matter how good or bad the season went.”

While some of the teams don’t entirely agree to that, they will agree that a winter’s worth of bragging rights does make things easier, especially if the football season didn’t go the way they hoped for. “It’s not a game of the haves versus the have nots”, said Central Head Coach Peter Rios, “it’s for pride, so the season record doesn’t matter, the Thanksgiving Day game is where the past disappears, and the slate is wiped clean. All you know that in one single game where pride is on the line, anything can happen.” His Central Knights will take on next door rivals The Purple of Classical, the night before the holiday at the Al Morro Athletic Complex where each team share the same home field and this season Classical will be the home team.

In years past the Rhode Island Interscholastic League has been adjusting their state playoff games around the Thanksgiving Day games. A few years back, the state finals took place after the holiday in hopes that the spotlight will shine on the championships. Teams still playing in the playoffs played in the shortened week leading to the play-off weekend by playing in the “Turkey game day”. In the case of both Cranston East and Cranston West, who were in the playoffs together and were going to play a few days after Thanksgiving. It was widely speculated that each team would “pull back” and play their back-ups or even their J.V. teams on Thanksgiving. Neither team went for it, the players made their statement and each team played their starters from kick-off to the end of the game that was a tough fought game. Both teams were ready for their next game and didn’t skip a beat.

This season the Super Bowls are played Thanksgiving, leaving most of the teams playing for only the “Turkey Bowl”. Six games will be played on Thanksgiving Eve: Central at Classical at Al Moro Sports complex, EWG/Prout at Narragansett, kick off for both these games is 5:00 pm. The following game starts at 6:00 pm: St. Raphael vs Moses Brown at Bryant University, Lincoln will host Central Falls, Shea will take on Tolman at Max Read Field, and Burrillville will travel to Ponagansett.

The schedule for the 10:00 am Thanksgiving Day kickoff are: Mt. Hope traveling to Barrington; Cumberland heading to Woonsocket; Cranston East hosting Cranston West at Cranston Stadium; East Greenwich welcoming Chariho; LaSalle traveling to play at East Providence; Middletown heading to Portsmouth; the North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles Co-op team heading to Scituate. The battle of the Kingstowns with North and South playing at URI’s Mead Stadium; Pilgrim and Tollgate will meet in the middle of Warwick where Warwick Vets Middle School will host this traditional game. West Warwick will host Coventry. The 10:15 kickoff has Tiverton at Rogers Toppa Field; North Providence will head to Smithfield for a 10:30 kickoff; however, the Granddaddy of all the areas high school traditional rivalries when Westerly visits Stonington CT for at 10:00 am start.

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