ASTON — Ernie Ellis’ first Thanksgiving football game came as a freshman, in uniform for Sun Valley. He’d been hooked by Vanguards football, though, much younger, as a sixth grader looking up to high schoolers like local celebrities.
Dennis Lux spent most of his Thanksgiving mornings at either Ridley or South Avenue Athletic Complex, which he could walk to. He wasn’t always tuned into the action on the field, usually tossing around a football with friends on the fields behind the stadiums. His memories stretch back a quarter century, starting with one of the emotional chapters in the Turkey Day rivalry. He took part in a pair of monumental clashes in the MacDade Boulevard battle lore.
Both men find their football lives coming full circle Thursday, when they will coach their alma maters for the first time on Thanksgiving.
“That’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving Day,” Ellis said.
The coaches arrive at their respective rivalries at a unique juncture in history, not just because of last year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the six teams in the three traditional Delco high school rivalries, five have coaches making their Thanksgiving debuts. Only Dave Wood of Ridley has coached a Turkey Day game before.
Schools have bid farewell to legendary and long-tenured coaches – Rich Gentile at Upper Darby, Joe Gallagher at Haverford, Lux’s former Interboro coach Steve Lennox. And yet the rivalries go on. At two programs, the tradition is in the hands of coaches who once suited up in the games.
Ellis’ first request upon being asked about his Thanksgiving history is simple: “You’re not going to ask me about that 2-0 game, are you?” Ellis, let the record reflect, went 3-1 against Chichester on Thanksgiving … even if the fourth was a slopfest in the mud, in which Sun Valley was limited to 32 yards of offense and the only points came on a first-quarter safety that gave Chi its first outright Del Val title since 1981. The father of Sun Valley freshman, Josh Farrell, was a senior on that Chichester team, as he reminds Ellis often. “It brings up a lot of emotions, still,” the 1996 Sun Valley grad said.
Ellis hasn’t missed many Thanksgiving games since. They first served as reunions with former teammates. Later, it became a place to bring his growing family, with Ernie’s son on the sidelines since he was a young kid.
After a year off due to COVID, Sun Valley and Chichestrer will renew their Thanksgiving rivalry. Left to right, Sun Valley coach Ernie Ellis, Ryan McKay, Andrew Kmett, Kevin Mayoros,Tom Malenki square off against Chichester players Zyair Bush, Jacob Maiale and coach Ed Buck. (PETE BANNAN/MEDIANEWS GROUP)It’s with pride that Ellis, who took over last spring, assembled a coaching staff composed primarily of Sun Valley grads. That community connection is vital for the program to flourish, just as it once enticed Ellis.
“I always wanted to play here, from the first game that I came to, as a sixth grader,” he said. “The guys used to come out of the bleachers and give us young guys high fives, and I was hooked from that point on.”
Lux took a similar tack in building his staff of Interboro grads. A member of the class of 2005, he had the added challenge of taking over directly from the legend that is Lennox.
His memories go back much further than his high school years, though. Lux can still recall the 31-yard field goal kicked by Chris Bryan in 1996 that gave Ridley a 15-13 win at South Avenue. (That game was a week after Interboro fullback Ed Hocker, his sister, Kristin, and friend Sandy Boyer died in a house fire, leading to suspensions of 17 Interboro students, including many football players.) As a sophomore, Lux and Interboro outlasted Ridley, 35-28, in two overtimes in 2002. He threw a touchdown pass in the 2004 game in which Sean Wasson, his offensive coordinator and the Daily Times Player of the Year, set the single-season Interboro rushing record in a 33-0 pasting of a Ridley side fresh off a deep districts run.
That 2004 win, in an otherwise down year by Interboro’s dominant standards, meant so much to Lux and his classmates.
“It was one of the best games,” Lux said. “After it, talking to all the coaches – Lennox wouldn’t even let me come up to him because he was so emotional about it – so I was a ball of emotions. Until I recently had my daughter, it was probably the best day of my life to that point.”
That game, like this year’s, wasn’t confirmed until Ridley’s playoff ouster. It was one of many installments in which the favorite, usually off a long playoff campaign, was upset by the pluckier, hungrier team. The insistence on not following the logic of records is part of what makes this Interboro-Ridley battle so uniquely special.
Like Ellis, Lux has never strayed far from the rivalry. He volunteered for 12 years with the Prospect Park Termites, helping introduce many of his current players to the sport. He’s had to wait longer than he expected for Thanksgiving football, having taken the varsity job in March 2020 and navigated a shift to the spring in his first year due to the pandemic.
Thanksgiving is the capstone not just for the high school schedule but for the entire community. No one needed to explain that to Lux when he took the job.
“For me, I’m trying to do half of what Coach Lennox has done in the past and carry that on, because I know what that means to the community,” Lux said. “It’s the one thing he said to me, after I took over and we talk pretty much every Sunday, he said, ‘you can have a great season, you can have this or that. But the thing I was told when I came here was, win one game and you’ll be fine.’”
Chichester and Sun Valley haven’t had recent postseason success to fall back on, which makes the game even more central. Connecting to family and friends who’ve been part of the rivalry’s rich tapestry is an important tie for programs that have to doggedly recruit their own players to stay home. There’s plenty of dollar bets and banter, Ellis said, between series alumni this week.
Both new coaches understand that their jobs entail being custodians of tradition. They’ve already done plenty of that behind the scenes, and they’re eager to take it to the field for the first time Thursday.
“Preseason, we ask the kids, what are some of your goals?” Ellis said. “And they bring this game up. Beat Chichester, Beat Chichester. Our goal should be playoffs, but everything sort of revolves around this game. And it’s awesome to be a part of it.”
/ 2 hours ago
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE Liberty Division QB Ethan Kohler Perkiomen Valley 12 RB Avrey Grimm...
Phoenixville girls’ golf coach Sandy Waltz describes sophomore Kate Roberts as meticulous. “She’s very...
Luke Fazio remembers playing on the Par-3 course with his father Michel Fazio at...
/ 22 hours ago
The Gwynedd Mercy field hockey team reached its first PIAA championship game since 1996...
/ 22 hours ago
Gwynedd Mercy’s Alaina McVeigh is The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media 2021 Field Hockey Player of the Year
For Alaina McVeigh, there’s nothing better than scoring a goal. “I play forward at...
/ 1 day ago
It was a nice way to end the 2021 season. But for Andrew McGonigle,...
/ 2 days ago
The senior goalie, a first team All-Central League boys’ soccer selection this fall, allowed...
/ 2 days ago
The senior forward/midfielder, a first team All-Inter-Ac girls’ soccer selection this fall, was a...
/ 2 days ago
Mercury All-Area: Owen J. Roberts’ Zubey picks up the pace, third straight Runner of Year recognition
Upward mobility is a challenge Claire Zubey has effectively mastered. Whether it was negotiating...