There is still a place for Thanksgiving football
Next year the NJSIAA will introduce public school state football championships for the first time. The Non-Public teams have been playing for state titles since 1993, but until a few years ago, the furthest a public school could go was a sectional championship, for the local teams that would either be a South Jersey or Central Jersey championship.
A few years ago, regional championships were introduced, where the South Jersey champ would play the Central Jersey champ.
That is where this season will end, with the regional championships. Next year, it will go a step further. The winner of the South vs. Central Regional game will meet the North 1 vs. North 2 winner in a true state championship.
Next year there will be public school Group state championship in Groups 1 through 5.
What the expanded state public school playoffs has done is diminished the role of Thanksgiving games.
Over the last several years, the football schedule has begun earlier, with this year some teams starting their seasons in the final week of August.
Many of the old Thanksgiving rivalries are played in that opening week or moved up to another date.
That means fewer games in South Jersey being played either the night before Thanksgiving or on the holiday.
This year there were five games among teams from the seven-county South Jersey area who played the night before Thanksgiving.
There were an additional 14 games among South Jersey opponents played on Thanksgiving.
So that is still 19 games, involving 38 schools who are playing either the night before or on the holiday.
There used to be many more, but 19 isn’t a bad number. South Jersey plays more Thanksgiving games than any other area in the state.
And there is still something special about playing on the holiday.
There are instances where a team is coming off a championship playoff game and has to play a Thanksgiving game the next week.
That was the case with Woodstown, which lost to Woodbury. 8-6 in the South Jersey Group 1 championship on Saturday Nov. 20 and then had to play Salem less than a week later on Thanksgiving.
Salem also had played in a championship game the previous Saturday, defeating Paulsboro, 13-12 in the Central Jersey Group 1 championship.
So both Woodstown and Salem, who began playing in 1911, had to come back from a championship game and play on Thanksgiving.
In addition, Salem has one more game, having to meet Woodbury in the South/Central Regional championship game Sunday at Rutgers.
So one could imagine if both Woodstown and Salem would have trouble getting up for a game following both competing in a championship.
Yet that wasn’t the case. Both teams played hard and with enthusiasm, more than happy to continue their longstanding Thanksgiving tradition.
“We all want to play for state championships and we wall want to keep traditions alive,” Woodstown coach John Adams said after his team’s 20-14 Thanksgiving home win over Salem, played before a large crowd. “It is just one of those things where you hope you can keep doing it year after year.”
The way the players on both teams competed so hard and hearing the Woodstown players talk about how much it meant to them to have one final game, shows that the tradition of playing Thanksgiving is worth preserving.
Author: Marc Narducci
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