Gentlemen, as host of this Thanksgiving feast, there is only one rule. If you don’t have an opinion, no candied yams for you.
There is a push to move state high school football games away from Thanksgiving. Is it an inevitable move to a better playoff system? Or is it an insidious plot by soccer-playing anarchists?
“The people who are behind this certainly aren’t football people,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, whose Rams face No. 3 Darien in the Turkey Bowl. “It’s just an attempt by non-football administrators, non-football people and coaches who are somewhat lazy who don’t want to go quite as long and want the season to be cut short.”
“Of course, every coach is going to say they love Thanksgiving,” SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. “Every coach wants to go 10-0, play nobody. But are they willing to have a discussion about what they truly want with the sport?
“There are so many issues right now that people cannot agree on. I’m the bad guy because I say let’s have a discussion about it. Well, figure it out. Right now, the coaches aren’t in agreement who can represent themselves in the coaches’ association. They tried to start their own coaches’ group. Out-of-season coaching, eliminating spring football, statewide football scheduling, increasing the number of playoff teams, something has to give. Is the week of Thanksgiving collateral damage? It may be.”
Al, before we have a food fight, please pass the cranberry sauce to the Hillhouse coach.
“I’m 100 percent for Thanksgiving football,” said Reggie Lytle, whose Hilltoppers face Wilbur Cross in the Elm City Bowl. “I like keeping the history alive and growing. It’s a rich tradition, not only in New Haven, but throughout the state. I played in the Cross-Hillhouse game. It’s something the kids look forward to. You can be in the playoffs and still play your crosstown rivals. It’s an added incentive to keep the blood flowing. I’d love to have an SCC championship game, too, but I don’t know how to work it all in.”
Reggie, could you pass the cranberry sauce back to the Notre Dame-West Haven coach.
“It depends on what they eliminate Thanksgiving for,” said Joe DeCaprio, whose Green Knights face the Hamden Green Dragons in the appropriately named Green Bowl. “If it is to expand the playoffs, I would be for it. If it was just to shorten the season, no. I love the tradition. We’re going into our 69th Green Bowl. It’s a very important game to our school. It’s important to Hamden.
“I think the entire season should start earlier. We start way too late in the summer.”
Joe, could you pass the mashed potatoes over to your Hamden counterpart?
“I grew up in New Jersey playing Thanksgiving football,” Tom Dyer said. “The Green Bowl in Hamden means a lot. I can also understand to evolve our sport, if they were to expand the playoffs. How would they do that? They can’t push the season back. There are pros and cons. I would say I’m on the fence. I really respect the history and tradition of the Thanksgiving game, yet at the same time I’m also open-minded enough to listen to ideas that would advance the game.
“Football is the only sport in the state where if you win 70 percent of your games, you’re not going to the playoffs. Even 80 percent. Every other sport it’s 40 percent or in some cases fill the bracket. Some teams after Week 3 you might be out of the playoffs. That’s tough. To grow the sport hopefully there’s something where they think about getting a few more teams in with more chances to compete.”
Tom could you pass a drumstick over to the Ansonia coach. He has got something meaty to say.
“You look at our world, there are a lot of problems, everyone realizes the struggles,” said Tom Brockett, whose undefeated and eighth-ranked Chargers face Naugatuck for the 120th time. “What’s better than bringing communities together, families together, for a holiday. The sun comes up. Everyone comes to one place. People are home and get a chance to watch you play for the only time all year. Hopefully, families go home and have dinner together. I think that’s what our world needs more of.
“The guys that don’t play on Thanksgiving, I’ll be honest, I think you’re robbing the kids.”
Tom, could you pass the squash over to the East Haven coach.
“It’s more than football,” Scott Benoit said. “East Haven-Branford on Thanksgiving is a very big thing. The towns have embraced it. To lose it, you’re going to lose a lot. What’s the alternative? What are we going to do as opposed to doing this? I don’t know what the answer is. It’s kind of a precarious situation. The state finals are Dec.14. That’s very late in Connecticut. Yet as far as Thanksgiving, towns rally around it, there are gates where schools make a lot of money off it. If you’re going to replace it, it better be with something good.”
“I came out of Hamden and the Green Bowl was a big game,” said North Haven coach Tony Sagnella. “North Haven has struggled for a rival. North Haven likes to play on Thanksgiving. I don’t get the feeling Amity does, from the attendance at least. I don’t think our game would be any worse played the Friday before. East Haven-Branford, Ansonia-Naugatuck, those games have a lot of tradition and present-day value.”
Tony could you pass the green beans over to Cheshire coach Don Drust. The ninth-ranked Rams, who face Southington on Thanksgiving, already have qualified for the Class LL playoffs. The clear flaw in the current system is the quick turnaround from Thanksgiving to Tuesday for the state quarterfinals and the following Sunday for the semis. That’s stress on young athletes. It is at the core of some wanting to start the playoffs earlier, perhaps adding more teams, avoiding three December playoff dates like this year.
“Obviously, you have to find a way to make sure your guys are healthy, your bodies have to recover and game plan in practice,” Drust said. “It’s challenging. At the end of the day, football is challenging every week. You’ve got to adapt. That’s what we do as coaches.”
“The experience for us playing Southington on Thanksgiving, there’s no way to simulate that environment and the emotion that creates. Do I think it’s end all, be all? No. Is there a better way? Maybe. I don’t know. At the moment, this experience for these young men is pretty special.”
Don, could you send those green beans over to West Haven.
“If you’re getting ready for the playoffs, it’s a little harder to go Thursday-Tuesday,” said coach Rich Boshea, whose Blue Devils face Fairfield Prep. “As a coach, Wednesday-Tuesday is a little easier. The kids are more in their rhythm. They play all night games, it’s a little strange for them getting up at 5:30 in the morning. Our game is at 10 a.m. in Fairfield. As a fan and what’s probably better overall for football is Thanksgiving. A lot of its fun, a lot of it’s good. But if you’re really concerned with winning the whole state championship Wednesday night is probably better.”
“I’m a traditionalist,” said Ed McCarthy, West Haven’s legendary former coach. “You can say Shelton and Derby (which hasn’t won on Thanksgiving since 2002) has outlived its usefulness and I’m sure there are a few more around, but I think the only real snag is the proximity to Tuesday and that’s a valid concern. So I’m mixed. Massachusetts, New Jersey, with their system, the Thanksgiving games don’t count. They’re window dressing. Some schools play the jayvees, which is ridiculous.”
Ed, pass the stuffing over to Leroy Williams.
“I’m a traditionalist, too, and obviously Thanksgiving has always been important to Connecticut football,” said Williams, chairman of the CIAC football committee. “Times have changed.”
Will there be a Thanksgiving change?
“It’s too soon to know,” Williams said. “When you talk to superintendents and people like that, everyone wants Thanksgiving to be a meaningful game. We had bounced an idea of starting the playoffs earlier and still playing Thanksgiving. It’s not a meaningful game.
“I don’t think anything will happen immediately, but it’s something we’re going to have to look at.”
OK, who’s ready for some pumpkin pie?
“Look, Thanksgiving is the easy target to rally around,” Carbone said. “It’s all rhetoric. Of course, it’s tradition and rivalries. Who wants to kill a Thanksgiving rivalry? It’s great for the kids. It’s great for the community. There’s also a great quote: ‘Tradition equals money.’ Thanksgiving makes money for a lot of programs.
“The point is where does it rank in importance? Do you want more teams in the playoffs or not? Do you want to start the season earlier or not? Do you want to play until Dec.15 and risk weather issues or not? I don’t know anyone knows exactly what they want. Everyone has to decide.”
And that’s why Carbone wants a summit with coaches, the CIAC, athletic directors, doctors, leagues, special interest groups, everyone, to figure the future course of the sport in Connecticut.
In the meantime, break out the candied yams, Al.
“The thought behind it was that regardless of how your year went, every kid in the FCIAC had a big rivalry game to end their careers,” said Marinelli, on the committee in 1993 to institute the Thanksgiving games. “If you look down here in Fairfield County and in other places in the state, it has become such a tradition with the fans and the alumni coming back. It would be an absolute sin and a shame to not have the rivalry games that we now have on Thanksgiving Day.”
“We’re going to play Naugatuck for the 120th time,” Brockett said. “We’re going to break that tradition for what? So many times we experiment with things that don’t work and now we’re stuck with it. Talk to the coaches in Massachusetts, they’re not happy with what happened.
“State championship Saturday is awesome, but there are very few people left playing. Every kid should have that opportunity to go out on a high note. Shame on us if we even consider taking it away from them. And what are we going to do on Thanksgiving morning? Rake leaves?”