What Should Happen With South Jersey Thanksgiving High School Football Games?
Thanksgiving and football are a tradition that is unique to South Jersey, let's stay unique!
Many states and areas have done away with playing Thanksgiving Day rivalry games. However, South Jersey has been one of about 10 states that present the pageantry of local high school football players playing their last game of the season in front of the biggest crowd of the year.
Family members that never got their nephew play a game, friends that graduated the year before coming back to watch their former teammates, its one last chance on a special day to play a game that many will never get to play again.
However many schools have stopped playing on Turkey Day or moved the game to the night before.
This years schedule only has five total matchups schedule, with St. Joe's and Winslow Twp. hardly considered a rivalry game.
Wednesday November 24
Middle Township (7-2) @ Lower Cape May (5-4), 6pm
St. Joseph (8-2) @ Winslow Township (8-2), 6pm
Thursday November 25
Holy Spirit (4-6) @ Atlantic City (3-6), 10am
Pleasantville (0-9) @ Ocean City (11-1), 10am
Vineland (2-9) @ Millville (10-1), 10:30am
So why not give the kids and fans these games? There are only two local teams that are still alive for state championships, why not schedule the game, and give the two schools the option if they want to play the game or not.
Middle and Lower Cape May, the Anchor Bowl, has extra meaning this season with the winner taking home the West Jersey Football League’s United Division title. Lower hasn't won an outright division title in football since 1980 and for Middle, you have to go back to 1959.
This game has been played on Thanksgiving week since 1996 is is usually the highlight for both programs
Over in Atlantic City on Thursday, the Spartans and the Vikings will battle it out for the 93rd time with with the Vikings leading the series 52-36-4, but it has certainly changed a bit.
School choice has moved many of the kids that lived on the island to other schools and many families have moved off Absecon Island dropping the Atlantic City enrollment.
For example, in the 2019 game between the two schools, 25 kids from Ventnor, Margate or Brigantine played for Holy Spirit.
While it's a great game for the alumni, the current kids really don't have a connection to the game like the kids from the past once did.
Many times in the past the eighth grade class from the Ventnor Pirates or Brigantine Rams would have a group of kids. Half of those kids would go to AC the other half would play at Holy Spirit. Meaning when Thanksgiving came, friends faced off, and families crossed paths.
It's simply not the case anymore.
Many of the kids who live on the island, sadly have made the choice not to attend AC, in favor of Holy Spirit, Ocean City, Mainland, or another choice school in the area.
When I played for the Ventnor Pirates, after every game, there was one question asked, Holy Spirit or AC.
They were the only two choices.
Some of my teammates went to AC, some went to Holy Spirit.
Today, there are simply too many options, with AC sadly losing out to other schools, especially when it comes to football.
The concept of a rivalry makes sense, but sadly, today's outcome seems to be more and more likely if the Vikings can't get kids to choose their school.
Millville is still alive and will play next weekend against Winslow Twp. at Rutgers, but I'm sure the Thunderbolts fans and the people of Vineland couldn't think of another way they would want to start Thanksgiving morning.
This is one of the nation's oldest games and continues to be one of the best-attended games on the holiday. Vineland leads the series 67-63-19 after 149 meetings. T
They have done it every Turkey day since 1848.
But for some of the games that were played on Thanksgiving Day, many of the kids today are not really aware of the traditions that started these games.
Ocean City and Pleasantville played because they were the closest schools to each other before Mainland and EHT were built. EHT and Mainland played because they were the two new schools and were close to one another. Absegami and Oakcrest are in the same district, Atlantic City and Holy Spirit used to share a field and had friends and families members packing the halls of both schools at the same time.
So let's start some new traditions.
So what should happen to the games? I say leave it up to the schools, but here is what I think would be a great day of football.
Millville vs Vineland - The oldest rivalry remains, with these two neighboring towns facing off at 10:30 every Thanksgiving Day.
Mainland vs Ocean City - Mainalnd used to play on Thanksgiving, but ended their game and moved it to the start of the season.. While that game had its moments, the Mainland Ocean City game always felt bigger. Ocean City has a long-standing game with Pleasantville, but that game seems to have lost its juice.
Absegami vs EHT - EHT and Absegami both draw from huge townships and have had past football success. Both teams have ended their Thanksgiving Day games, Absegami played Oakcrest and EHT faced Mainland. However, let's start a new Thanskgiving game and have two of the bigger schools in our area face-off.
Atlantic City vs Pleasantville - They play every year in the Battle by the Bay on Super Bowl Sunday in front of huge crowds for basketball, why not get these two schools on the field together for football. While both have had their challenges on the football field, these two communities have great feeder programs and traditions that their fans could see on Thanksgiving Day.
Holy Spirit vs St. Augustine - These two Non-Public powers would be a treat to see on Turkey Day. It's one of the most anticipated games of the year, why not play in front of as many alums and family members as possible.
Bridgeton vs Buena - Only 20 miles separate these two schools, it would be a great way to start something fun on Thanksgiving Day. Both teams have had plenty of football success and would make for a great Thanksgiving Day game.
Oakcrest vs Cedar Creek - These two schools are separated by only 10 miles and are a part of the same district, with many of Cedar Creek's students from Mays Landing. The Pirates have become one of the top programs in the area, while Oakcrest could surpass them, with this game being a big community draw.
Middle vs Lower - No reason to mess with this game, the Anchor Bowl remains.
St Joe's vs Hammonton - Let's bring this game back. Two great programs, one great community.