COMMENTARY: Dying Tradition? Some Keep it Going, but others doubt...
89 Year Old Rivalry In Jeopardy! AD Gregg Amore Keeping the Fires Stoked!
Give or take one or two years, I have been at most EPHS Thanksgiving rallies since 1970. On Tuesday, November 21, 2017 about 1500 East Providence High School students jammed the colorfully festooned Townie gymnasium along with many of their teachers. I was there also. The long standing tradition of a "Thanksgiving Day Rally", although still happening, is in serious jeopardy of ending. Not only is the rally's future in doubt but so is the big game's. More on that shortly.
Sources close to the East Providence-LaSalle Thanksgiving Day rivalry confirm that many think the annual game is close to ending. It has been dying a slow death. The RI Interscholastic League Principal’s Committee on Athletics voted to change the state football playoff format a few years back. "Beginning in the fall (2014) all Thanksgiving Day “League games” must be played during the regular season. As a result, all semifinal games will be played on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The traditional Thanksgiving Day games will be played as in the past as “non- league” games. Divisional championship games will be played a minimum of seven days after Thanksgiving," said the league's full time director Tom Mezzanotte.
According to league officials, schools affected by this change are LaSalle Academy, East Providence High School, Cranston East, Cranston West, Scituate, North Smithfield, North Providence and Smithfield High Schools. The new format is aimed at player safety in the league's eyes. There can be 3 games in 10 days around Thanksgiving with playoffs. "During the regular and post football season no football player is allowed to participate in more than 90 minutes of full contact during the week," said the league statement. "Only East Providence and LaSalle disagreed with this format. The rest of the league's Athletic Directors approved. They don't have the tradition that we have. It could mean the end of the LaSalle-EP Thanksgiving Day game as we know it," said then East Providence Athletic Director, Bob Duarte. "They could have made other arrangements," Duarte added.
In my opinion I think state officials are more interested in playoff games which benefit a few rather than regular season contests which involve many more student athletes.
EP vs. LaSalle is the state's longest standing football rivalry. It officially began in 1929. Although the two schools started turkey day play in 1927 (EP won 6-0), there was no game in 1928 and the league “started” in 1929 with a LaSalle 19-6 win. Unlike many of the other high school Thanksgiving Day rivalries in Rhode Island, the EP-LaSalle game often had direct impact on the state championship playoff system.
But now with the new state format, teams are reluctant to play starters very much on Thanksgiving Day with the possibility of playoff or a super bowl game to follow. In fact football teams are told by the league to start practicing early in the summer with a rumor out there that the state may want to complete super bowl action before Thanksgiving Day.
Additionally, many at LaSalle no longer consider EP-LaSalle a "rivalry." LaSalle is more smitten with measuring up to fellow catholic school power Hendricken in Warwick. "Our kids and many alumni no longer look at East Providence as a rival," a LaSalle administrator told me a couple years back. I think we are very close to seeing the game come to an end with sentiments like that. Even East Providence officials acknowledge that the game's future is in trouble.
"We're doing what we can to keep it going," said current EP athletic director Gregg Amore. "We have a nice rally today, but it doesn't have the feel of prior years. We're trying," he said. Part of the loss of the Townie spirit at Thanksgiving is the fault of prior administrators who either directly or indirectly wounded our Townie Pride. Some recent high school principals, who were not "Townies," made it clear that Townie alumni were not welcome at the annual rally. Year after year, many Townie grads would attend the rally and keep the chain of tradition alive. Graduates like the late Harry Mutter, Junior Butler, Doc Ramos, Matty Lopes, Millie Morris and scores of others would stop by, wearing their red & white. A former principal discouraged and actually ended that tradition. Shameful.
Let me say for the record that current EPHS Principal Shani Wallace (not a Townie) actually supports this tradition and welcomes back Townie alum. Ms. Wallace is extremely supportive of Townie Pride and alumni. But the damage may have been done as alumni no longer come by the rally.
Another reason for the impending end of this once majestic holiday rivalry is the fact that LaSalle football has outplayed East Providence in recent years. Public schools can no longer complete in many sports with the private and parochial schools who have a borderless roster of student-athletes. While that was always the case, EP more than held their own in the classroom and on the field. The attempt to dismantle Townie Pride by a few critics (in my opinion) has taken its toll. Damage was done, some of it irreversible. But leaders like Shani Wallace and others and a wonderfully dedicated EPHS faculty and staff have persevered and worked hard to take back Townie Nation. The pride is back but an uphill effort remains to regain totally what once was.
The annual rally may also have to grow and change. While it was born of Rhode Island's oldest football rivalry, it may have to be adjusted to reflect the schools' great success in other sports like soccer, volleyball, wrestling, softball, baseball, tennis, etc. Maybe an all-sport Thanksgiving-week rally each year may inject new life. I think it could work and alumni across the board could be invited back.
For those keeping records, East Providence High is tied with LaSalle for the most state championships in football. Each school has 15 titles. Cranston East has 14 titles and Hendricken, winners of the last 7 super bowls, has 13. This will change.
Good luck AD Amore. I'm thankful for being a Townie. I'll keep coming back.
(This commentary is not necessarily the view of this paper or its owners or editors. It is strictly the view of the writer, Bob Rodericks. Inquiries to the writer are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)