Happy Thanksgiving to all schoolboy sports fans, especially to all the alumni from all the local high schools who are returning to the South Country for your traditional Thanksgiving reunions with family and friends.
The reality of Thanksgiving is it is “Glory Days” at its best. Memory Lane. Rooting for your teams on this traditional schoolboy football game is always enjoyable. Beware though, Thanksgiving morning football games have lost their historic identity in terms of fan attendance. Crowds of 8,000 faithful fans are not happening anymore at the Bartlett-Southbridge football game.
In Southbridge’s Joe Capillo’s book, “They Played to Win,” Capillo reported that game attendance in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s with fan numbers ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 attendees. The 1970s and 80s showed a steady 4,000 to 6,000 tickets being sold and the 90’s held up to a 3,000 to 4,000 gate attendance.
The diminishing crowd numbers began to fall in the year 2000 with 2,500 fans and moving the time line forward to 2019, the over 100 year old Bartlett-Southbridge game drew 300 fans.
This year’s game in Webster will draw about 300 fans if the weather is seasonable.
Back in the 1950s to 2000, radio stations WESO and WGFP both covered the Bartlett-Southbridge game live and Q-100 FM covered the Shepherd Hill Tantasqua game live. All three radio stations were real time and the Oxford-Auburn game was tape delayed on WESO and that followed the post game of the Bartlett-Southbrisge game.
By the way, the pre-game on the three live radio stations began at 9 a.m. with the kickoff at 10:15 a.m. By the time the taped-delay Oxford-Auburn game was finished, WESO was signing off at 4 p.m. That was schoolboy football from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or seven hours of high school football on the local airwaves.
That’s how crazy the interest was in those years for local Thanksgiving Day high school football.
Add in the night before Thanksgiving coaches show on WESO that went from 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. that included the head football coaches from Bartlett, Southbridge, Shepherd Hill, and Tantasqua in the studio live at WESO in Southbridge. Call-ins were taken during that coaches show from fans who wanted to ask a specific question to one of the coaches or wish them good luck.The coaches show could have easily lasted until 9 p.m. because there was that much interest. This address knows because yours truly hosted the show from 1984-2000. It was special and a lot of fun.
This year’s BHS-SHS game is being played at Webster’s Memorial Field on upper Ray Street. The grandstands on both sides of the field have been taken downin 2020 and have not been replaced. Bartlett has played all their home games this season to standing only crowds. A recent drive by on Ray Street has shown some activity of a portable aluminum set of stands/bleachers for this year’s Thanksgiving morning game. Looks like the portable bleachers will sit 40 people and will be on the home side by the press box. Looks like the Southbridge fans will be standing on November 25 as white paint boundaries appear behind the players and coaches area of both sides of the field. That means if you go to the game that morning, you can follow the ball up and down either sideline as long as you don’t interfere with the coaches and players area. Those portable bleachers on the Bartlett side won’t be a problem if you anticipate following the football. If the weather is bad, you can opt to the baseball grandstand if you have binoculars and watch the game behind the home plate area. Both Bartlett and Southbridge are winless this 2021 season and both have struggled to get this far in the season because of roster numbers. Here are my picks for the 3 local games this Thanksgiving morning.
Bartlett over Southbridge in Webster
Throw the season records out and for all you Indian seniors, this is the game that you will remember the rest of your lives. No pressure. All adrenaline.You can do this. Bryce Patterson can tell all you seniors what this game means as the Patterson family has a long history of family members who played in this epic battle. Last chances in life are in front of you to be taken advantage of. Bartlett wins at home in a close one.
Shepherd Hill over Tantasqua in Sturbridge
The Rams will have a good Turkey Day with Alex Siwik and Romeo Holland leading the way in Sturbridge at the Reservation for the 10 a.m. kickoff. SH has dominated this holiday game and this space only asks one thing from you Rams. The Tony Vegnone MVP award has to come back to Dudley. Back in the day, the Vegnone award was for the MVP, not offense or defense to get two players the Tony Vegnone award so the losing team got to share too. That’s what they do today. The winning team gets bragging rights for Tony Vegnone. Go Rams and the SH player who wins the award is the true Tony Vegnone MVP.
Oxford over Bay Path at Oxford
Go Pirates. Sorry I had your ship sailing to Manchester two weeks ago. You adjusted your sails perfectly and won two in a row. Keep Lucas Lambert up in the crow’s nest for you Pirates. He is the guy, but watch out for Gabe Espinosa for Bay Path. He is a bone crusher on defense. It looks like clear sailing for the Pirates on Thanksgiving.