Football: Thanksgiving Rockin' Eve


For decades, Thanksgiving morning in South Jersey has meant the smell of a turkey in the oven and the sights and sounds of high school football.

But the second half of that tradition is starting to give way.

More and more schools are scheduling games on Thanksgiving eve in hopes of increasing attendance and freeing up the holiday for family-related events.

It makes sense. This is a growing trend and I could see it expanding to include as many as half the annual games in a few years -- if there still is Thanksgiving football in a few years (But that's another story).

"People are so busy and do so much travelling to get to Thanksgiving dinner," said Kingsway athletic director Joe Galliera, whose school will host rival Clearview on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. "This creates more of an opportunity for people to have more time to spend with their families."

The Clearview-Kingsway clash is one of 10 games that is scheduled for Wednesday night in South Jersey. Unofficially, that is believed to be the most games ever on Thanksgiving eve.

Others this year include Pennsauken at Bishop Eustace, Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West and Penns Grove at Pennsville.

"We're looking forward to playing under the lights," Cherry Hill East coach Tom Coen said. "It's exciting for our kids and it enable mores people to spend more time with their family on Thanksgiving."

Sterling and Collingswood have been playing their annual game on Thanksgiving eve around 15 years. That started when Collingswood added lights to its football stadium in the mid-1990s and was looking for a way to increase attendance as "the only game in town."

St. Augustine Prep and Buena also have played on Wednesday for years. Eastern and Washington Township used to play on Wednesdays some years when those schools were Thanksgiving rivals.

Paul VI has begun to play Camden Catholic on Wednesday night when the Eagles host the Irish in the annual game. Those two meet on Thanksgiving morning this year at Camden Catholic but I wouldn't be surprised to see that game become an annual Wednesday night affair at both sites.

Clearview athletic director Greg Horton moved the game with Kingsway to Wednesday night last season.

"I heard that a few schools had great success moving their games from Thanksgiving morning to Wednesday night," Horton said. "We wanted to try it and see if it was worth our time. It was a successful evening."

Horton said a few folks got a little upset by the change. But that was before the game.

"Reaction was mixed at first when people heard about us moving the game," Horton said. "We had a couple of school alumni call in and say it was not right to move the game. The great majority of people had positive things to say once we experienced the Wednesday night game."

Galliera said Kingsway football coach Tony Barchuk approached him with the idea of following Clearview's lead and moving the Dragons' home game to Wednesday night.

"We talked with the adminstration, the school board, a lot of different people," Galliera said. "Most people seem to think it's a good idea."

There are 10 this year. I bet there will be 12 next year, and 16 in 2013 -- if there still is Thanksgiving Day football on a wide-spread basis in 2013.

That's the year the state could institute a system to allow for public schools to play for state championships. That could impact Thanksgiving games.

Here's Wednesday's schedule:

Bridgeton at Burlington Twp., 5

Pennsauken at Bishop Eustace, 6

Cherry Hill East at Cherry Hill West, 6

Holy Cross at Willingboro, 6

Penns Grove at Pennsville, 6

Collingswood at Sterling, 7

Glassboro at Deptford, 7

Clearview at Kingsway, 7

St. Augustine at Buena, 7

Allentown at Northern Burlington, 7

-- Phil Anastasia

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