What Should Happen With High School Football Thanksgiving Day Games?
The Thanksgiving high school football games are in the books for another year.
Fans packed the bleachers all over South Jersey for the annual football rivalry games, but many of these games are under assault by the high school football playoffs and people who want to see true state champions.
But don't tell the fans these games don't matter anymore.
Fans packed the bleachers all over South Jersey on a beautiful, windy day. But in the backdrop of these well attended games was the topic of how much longer these games be played. With playoff football continuing to expand, with a goal to crown an overall state champion getting more and more traction, the Thanksgiving games become more in danger of moving off the holiday.
I have called the Atlantic City-Holy Spirit game for the past five seasons. Fans packed the stands today, for the 91st edition, a Holy Spirit 27-0 victory.
However, many schools have already moved their game off of the holiday, choosing to play on Wednesday night, or not playing the game all together. Mainland and Egg Harbor Township, have decided to end their rivalry on the holiday after 36 seasons.
Cedar Creek and St. Augustine ended their short-lived Thanksgiving game after just four games. The Hermits also faced Buena for a few years on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. The two schools, which are located just 10-minutes apart decided to end the game with the Chiefs holding a 12-8 advantage in a series that was last played in 2011.
Absegmai and Oakcrest have moved to Wednesday night, Bridgeton and Cumberland, neighboring towns ended their rivalry. Hammonton and St. Joe's, both located in Hammonton, decided to pull the plug in 2013. Now Mainland and EHT will move the game off the holiday.
So do these games still matter?
Depends on which game you're talking about, and who you ask.
The Ocean City-Pleasantville game was in jeopardy this season, based on both teams success. Both teams reached the semi-final round of the NJSIAA playoffs, and if they advanced to the finals, the game would have most likely not have been played, or been a JV game, with teams placing more emphasis on playoffs games.
AC and Holy Spirit are in a unique situation. The Spartans, a non-public school, doen't have to worry about a state final game this weekend. They play St. Joe's in the non-public II final on Dec. 8 at Rutgers. AC, which is going through a rough time, didn't play a game for 27 days before Thanksgiving day, and it showed.
While that game used to be a fierce rivalry, the schools have played 91 times, with the Vikings leading the series 52-35-4, but it has certainly changed a bit.
The choice school option continues to cut into Atlantic City's enrollment and weaken their football program, which was once thriving. With less and less families living in the communities of Ventnor, Margate and Brigantine, less and less of the kids that play for the Ventnor Pirates and Brigantine Rams. With less kids playing for those feeder teams, less kids make their way to play for the Vikings, making it harder and harder for them to compete.
In today's game, Holy Spirit had 25 kids on their roster from either Ventnor, Margate or Brigantine. All those kids who had the choice to play for Atlantic City, went to Holy Spirit. Its not a knock on Holy Spirit, but it raises some eyebrows on the Vikings ability to grow their program moving forward.
While its 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 a 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 questions 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 the 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.
Lower and Middle seems to be a cool experience, playing in the anchor bowl. The two schools don't have a lot of football success or tradition, but playing on Thanksgiving gives their kids, fans and alumni a special feeling in a season that might not have gone the way they had hoped.
Millville and Vineland is one of the nations oldest games and continues to be one of the best attended games on the holiday. With their win today, Vineland leads the series 67-62-19 after 148 meetings. Those two communities I imagine can't envision a Thanksgiving without those two schools facing off.
They have done it every Turkey day since 1848.
Mainland and EHT, a game that I played in, ended their rivalry today. The series, which dates back to 1983, goes to Mainland 24-12-1. The two schools do plan to play in the regular season in the future, just not on Thanksgiving day.
Absegami and Oakcrest moved their game to Wednesday night in 2017. This years game was won by the Braves 42-14, making it five straight wins for the the Galloway school. The decision to move the game was made between the two schools, who both reside in the Greater Egg Harbor school district.
With the victory, Absegami now leads the series 25-18.
So what should happen with the Thanksgiving day games?
I think its up to each rivalry to decide, and if they want to continue to play them, there is no question the fans will come, watch, and support their favorite school.
But none of these games should be forced to end, the interest is clearly still there.