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Thanksgiving Day High School Football – A Jersey Tradition

Flikr user JamieL.WilliamsPhoto
Flikr user JamieL.WilliamsPhoto

This week marks my 25th anniversary of being a “Jersey Guy” Brooklyn transplant, or whatever you want to call it.

And it introduced me to a longstanding tradition, the Thanksgiving Day rivalry between the Marlboro Mustangs and Manalapan Braves.

Quite by happenstance, since I was working at another radio station at the time, and received a call from a member of the Manalapan class of ’88 who’d found out that I’d moved out here.

He asked if I’d host the annual bonfire at the high school football field the night before the big game. How could I possibly say no?

It was sort of like my coming out party to a New Jersey tradition, and one that I’ll always cherish. Sort of like being transported back in time to a simpler life.

Thanksgiving and family, but first, to start the day, high school football.

And not just any high school football, football among traditional rivals.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d present just a partial list of some of the more traditional rivalries that have taken place over the years in New Jersey.

Again, this is just a partial list…feel free to add to it if you see I’ve left anything out…and let us know who you’ll be rooting for in the big games.

Hackensack High School vs. Teaneck High School have played annually every Thanksgiving morning since 1931.

Don Bosco Prep vs. Paramus Catholic

Phillipsburg vs. Easton, PA

Phillipsburg High School and Easton High School have been playing each other since 1905. The first Thanksgiving Day meeting was in 1916 and the schools have played each other annually ever since. The winner of the game is presented with the Forks of the Delaware Trophy.

Which, by the way, this year has been marred by the abduction of Easton’s Red Rover to Phillipsburg.

According to this:

The weekend “abduction” of Easton Area High School’s Red Rover statue, allegedly by Phillipsburg High School students, has stirred up hard feelings just days before the two schools meet in the Thanksgiving Day football classic.

The bulldog statue was taken Friday from in front of the high school in Palmer Township. Township police are investigating, but an officer said Monday night the department is waiting for Easton Area school officials to decide whether to press charges.

“I don’t know if the school has filed a theft report on that item,” an officer said. “We have a report that it was taken and returned.”

Three Phillipsburg students posed with the purloined statue for a photograph that was posted on Facebook and remained online Monday night. The statue was at Phillipsburg High before students returned it to the Easton Area school early Monday, police said.

Tammy Hetzel, an Easton district reading teacher, said stealing the statue violates the spirit of the Easton-Phillipsburg sports tradition.

I think there’s a way of showing pride in your school without being destructive or without breaking the law,” said Hetzel, who was Easton High’s Red Rover mascot for the 1986 season and graduated from the school in 1987.

The Red Rover statue had significant damage to its pedestal and the bulldog when it was returned, police said. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether it was damaged by the students who removed it, or by a separate mishap.

The Easton-Phillipsburg game is scheduled for Thursday morning at Fisher Stadium at Lafayette College.

Hetzel said if Phillipsburg students want to have fun with Easton’s Red Rover, they could buy their own dog statue and decorate it each year. But she said they should remember that, despite the competition, the game also celebrates how close the two communities are.

“I don’t think it’s meant to divide,” she said. “When an Easton person marries a Phillipsburg person, we might say that it’s too bad. But we know that’s a joke. The older you get, the more you realize that we might live on opposite sides of the river, but everybody has the same memories of the game.

“Some people don’t get how this tradition brings the towns together and doesn’t divide them. I don’t think these three people understand.”

Also on tap according to this:

Ridgewood vs. Paramus

East Orange vs. Barringer
East Orange High School and Barringer High School have played since 1897.

Millville vs. Vineland
This rivalry has been contested since 1894.

Westfield vs. Plainfield
Westfield and Plainfield has been played since 1900 and celebrated its 100th game in 2005.

Watchung Hills vs. Ridge

North Plainfield vs. South Plainfield

East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge
East Brunswick High School and Old Bridge High School compete annually in the Battle Of Route 18 football game. The rivalry began in 1994 when Cedar Ridge High School and Madison Central High School merged into Old Bridge High School, and has since played East Brunswick every year on Thanksgiving morning.

Salem vs. Woodstown

Madison vs. Millburn
Alternates fields each year. The mayors typically make bets, with the losing team providing the winners with a platter of sloppy joes. Also, the loser must wash the other team’s cars without pants on.

Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson Fair-Haven
Game played annually since 1921. Presents Peninsula Trophy to winner.

New Providence vs. Berkeley Heights
This rivalry has been contested for only a few years, but is very popular in the surrounding areas of New Providence, Summit, and Berkeley Heights.

Middletown South vs. Middletown North
Middletown High School South and Middletown High School North varsity teams play annually, with the home team alternating every year. 2010 marked the 35th game played between the two schools, with Middletown South beating Middletown North 20–7. Middletown South leads the rivalry with a record of 23–11–1 over Middletown North.

And lest I forget, the aforementioned Marlboro vs Manalapan!

Which game are you going to and for whom will you root?

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