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WRITE ON WEDNESDAY
TURKEY DAY FOOTBALL
A few weeks ago in our Friday feature, "Maybe I'm Amazed", I opined on the traditional high school football rivalries being relegated to the regular season instead of the Thanksgiving Day games. Dr. Joe Leonardi wrote a piece about this a year or two back. Game Day is no longer Turkey Day................at least for high school football.
Longing for Thanksgiving high school football
This year, for the first time since I graduated way, way back in 1982, I began attending high school football games. My first impression was that of surprise at how few people were in the stands. Today, the bulk of the support comes via the students, district employees, cheerleaders, spirit band, pep squad and families of those involved.
Gone are the days when the marching band, drill team, color guard and majorettes blanketed the field from sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. It is all much smaller today, however the school spirit is no less intense.
The preparation put in by the students, instructors, parents and coaches is tireless and their efforts are rewarded by incredible performances. I am proud of my alma mater, yet … something is missing.
In the October 18, 1924 edition of the New York Herald Tribune Grantland Rice wrote: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
To this day, besides wishing I wrote it, the above quote sends a shiver down my spine. The words meld together and right in front of my eyes a gridiron visage unfolds. The vision I see is not one of Notre Dame and Army. No, my mind transports me to my childhood. The month: November.
The day: Thanksgiving.
The names: Jimmy Castellino, Dave Bachkosky, Tommy O’Malley and of course, Jimmy Cefalo.
They may not have been the South Bend cyclone, but they were more than likely the most imposing foursome to ever, at the same time, don the Patriot red, white and blue.
For many years, Thanksgiving football was a Greater Pittston tradition. Some claim that the Pilgrims and Native Americans played football on the very spot where Albert West Park now stands. Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating ---- just a bit, but for most of my formative years, Thanksgiving Day and high school football went hand in hand. Rivalries existed in many communities and some even changed over the years; however, with the mergers that created Pittston and Wyoming Area, the Susquehanna separated schools traditional turkey day tussles were not to be missed.
The entire week before "The Game" was one of intense preparation.
Throughout the east side of the watery divide, homes of players’ families and non were decorated with signs of support and almost totally immersed in red, white and blue. Of course, on the other side of the river green and gold adorned just as many houses. Everywhere you went, there was only one topic of conversation.
In almost every residence, dinners were planned around the big game.
When Turkey Thursday finally arrived, husbands and sons would help get the house set for the waist widening feast and then anxiously depart for kickoff. Once gone, minus male meddling, mom and grandma were free to prepare the turkey and all the trimmings. My first Thanksgiving Day football game is ingrained in my memory. My dad and uncle took me to a packed Charlie Trippi Stadium. Bleachers on both sides were teeming with people and the fence surrounding the field had nary a spot to stand. The assembled masses consisted of those with and without children involved in the game. Greater Pittstonians arrived, participated and watched as a singular family.
On the PA side the fans were in unison shouting "GO! GO! GO!." Each "GO" was accentuated with heavy foot stomps and clanging cowbells. Those wooden bleachers nearly buckled under the fearsome force of the podiatric pounding.
Nestled next to my father for warmth, I was mesmerized at the activity surrounding us. Even today I can still feel the shaking of the bleachers, I can hear the roars of the crowd, I can recall the resonance of the cowbells, I can see the cold breath exiting my mouth and I am, for a moment, a kid again.
I attended the PA-WA game this year. It was played as intensely on the field as ever. The cheerleaders, spirit band, painted pep squad, students and family members in attendance were as loud and as forceful as days gone by.
Unfortunately, gone was the sense of community surrounding the holiday contest. The discussions around town did not center on the game. Only a few homes were decorated. The stands on both sides were not packed full and the fence had too many open spots.
Thanksgiving Day football no longer exists. It became extinct when the PIAA opted to institute a play-off system. While the cross river rivalry remains intact and is as important to the students as it was in days of yore, the communal feel, the bringing together of Greater Pittston for one glorious event --- those days, they are sadly, eternally lost.
Dr. Joe Leonardi
Author: Fat Then Fit Now; A Life Beyond Weight Loss