Dennis Decker played in the Ridley-Interboro game on Thanksgiving. He understands the importance of tradition and respects the rivalry.
The Ridley coach also understands the dilemma both school districts face after the PIAA voted last month to the shorten the football season by one week and expand from four to six classifications.
The regular season likely will end before Halloween next year. A team that does not qualify for a district tournament, that is scheduled to play on Thanksgiving, would have to wait roughly four weeks to play its next game.
The remaining Turkey Bowl rivalries in Delaware County are Chichester-Sun Valley, Upper Darby-Haverford and Ridley-Interboro. At least two of them seem to be on the brink of extinction.
Upper Darby and Haverford, who play for the Central League title Thursday morning, have already agreed to continue playing the game on Thanksgiving next season and beyond.
“It means too much,” Upper Darby coach Richie Gentile said recently.
Since they are league opponents, it’s conceivable that Upper Darby and Haverford would have to receive special permission from the PIAA to play an 11th game. Beginning next season, the regular season will operate on a 10-game schedule. The Centrals will return to a nine-game league schedule next year. This season, they played an eight-game format with two open dates for nonleague games.
The other alternative for Upper Darby and Haverford would be to have a built-in bye week, if neither school is granted permission for an 11th game.
As for Ridley and Interboro, Decker can see the writing on the wall. As much as he would love to see the Thanksgiving tradition continue, he’s a realist.
“We’ve talked about it,” he said. “I don’t know if that actually happens. It’s just tough, you know? With teams in the playoffs and stuff like that, the way the season is going to end next year, conceivably if either one of us doesn’t make the playoffs, our season is going to be over probably on Halloween weekend. So, then, you’re going to ask a team to sit around almost four weeks to play a game. It’s tough.
“As much as there is a history and the rivalry and it’s great for both communities, you’re asking a bunch of 16-and 17-year-old kids to play a game after all that time off. In their minds, they don’t know the history of the game and haven’t been around long enough to realize it. So from that standpoint, it is what it is.
“From a guy that’s been in the game and knows the history, I would love to see it continue. I just don’t know if this is the right way to do it,” Decker added. “I would love to see it moved to the first week of the season and still keep that rivalry, make it a big deal still, and do things that way. Just to kind of keep the neighborhood rivalry going and keep the tradition. But I’m not sure if that will happen, either.”
When Ridley was effectively eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to Haverford in Week 9, Decker thought it would be wise to pick up a contingency game for Week 11. So, the Green Raiders scheduled a Pennridge team that narrowly missed the District One Class AAAA postseason. The game was set just four days in advance. The thought process, Decker said, was to keep his players from checking out mentally and in game shape. Ridley has missed the playoffs the last three years, which means waiting around three weeks for Thanksgiving. Interboro, meanwhile, is a perennial District One Class AAA qualifier (the Bucs lost in the first round for the second straight year).
“That’s exactly why I wanted to schedule Pennridge last week,” he said. “People say, oh, what do you want to play a Suburban One League team like Pennridge for? It’s another game for the kids against a very good team and it’s another game for us as coaches to evaluate our younger kids at practice. It was an extra week for the kids to compete and an extra week for kids just not to be sitting around and not really have anything to look forward to for three weeks.”
Moving the game to Week 1 — along with Sun Valley-Chichester — would be the most logical course of action. Sun Valley and Chichester have more open weeks on the schedule than Ridley before league play begins, so there’s no excuse not to continue that particular game on a different date.
The pomp and circumstance can remain the same, but instead of waiting until the end of November, the games can be dubbed Kickoff Classic or Thanksgiving in September. The heart and soul of the tradition doesn’t have to change.
“If it was a situation like when I played in 1990, when we didn’t open up until the weekend after Labor Day and then we played straight through and we had to win that game (Thanksgiving) to get to playoffs; if it was a situation like that, I’m all for it,” Decker said. “But to ask kids to sit around for two, three or four weeks to play a game when they should be getting ready for wrestling, basketball or swimming, or whatever they’re doing in the winter for sports, is kind of unfair to them.”
Ultimately, it’s a decision that the superintendents from all school districts will soon have to make.
“You have to do what’s best for the kids,” Decker said. “I’d hate to see it end, but you have to be realistic, too.”