November Means Tradition, Turkey and Football
EP-LaSalle Tradition in Jeopardy
November usually means the end of the nice fall weather as the region begins to prepare for the doldrums of winter. It also means football and turkey for many. For Townies, the tradition of playing high school football on Thanksgiving morning usually is a precursor to a day filled with turkey, stuffing and pie. Thanksgiving is probably more associated with the word "Tradition" than any other major holiday.
The football rivalry between East Providence High and La Salle Academy is a storied one. It is the oldest in-state school rivalry. The series 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. The 2019 EP-LaSalle game will be the 91st contest between the two Turkey Day rivals. When the stand's at LaSalle's old football field were closed because of safety reasons in the early 80's, LaSalle would host home Thanksgiving games at various venues in Providence. Brown University and City Stadium behind Mount Pleasant High School were used a few times. But the cost and inconveniences caused LaSalle officials to keep all Thanksgiving games at Pierce Stadium. "It was cheaper for us to rent and Pierce is a great field," said one LaSalle official.
LaSalle has since constructed a new football field with synthetic turf and the series has returned to an alternating home venue with this year's game a home contest for the Townies. The series however has been watered down as the state interscholastic league has made the Thanksgiving Day game a non-league clash. Once, the game had meaning with playoff and super bowl ramifications. Now the teams may choose to sit their starters on Thanksgiving Day. Another reason for the cooling down of the rivalry is the recent dominance of La Salle in this series. The Rams now hold a commanding overall series advantage. On November 30, 1939 the new Pierce Memorial Stadium opened to the public in time for the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game between East Providence and La Salle Academy. The Townies won, 10 to 0.
LaSalle now has 51 wins, East Providence 37 and two ties
The series has seen changing momentum swings. From 1929 through 1940 the series pretty much went back and forth between schools. La Salle dominated the series from 1941 through 1948, winning a state title in 1942. A little back and forth again and then the Townies won from 1960 through 1967 and then again in ’69 and ’70 and ’72 and ’73. EP won state titles in ’66, ’67 and ’69 and ’70. LaSalle took over and won the 1974, ’75 and ’76 games while EP bounced back to win from 1977 through 1980 and then again from 1982 through 1984. It was an eight year run next for LaSalle as they beat EP from 1985 through 1992. La Salle spanked EP in 1992 by a 50-6 score but EP returned the favor with a 41-6 victory the next year. And on it went, win one, lose one, until LaSalle has now gained dominance on Turkey Day.
Tradition in Trouble - Will it end?
The RI Interscholastic League (RIIL) Principal’s Committee on Athletics recommended and most high schools voted to change the state football playoff format. "Beginning in 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 RIIL full time director Tom Mezzanotte at that time.
By the time East Providence and LaSalle play each other this Thanksgiving, a Super Bowl champion will already have been crowned and the season is basically over. After the Friday November 1st games (EP-Cranston West, LSA-Barrington) both Ep and LSA will be idle until November 28th, Thanksgiving Day. That is 26 days - over three weeks without a football game. A meaningless game in league standings, especially with LaSalle out of contention for the State Super Bowl this year. La Salle may make it to the Divisional title game, basically considered a "consolation" game by most schools. But for most traditionalists the state's oldest rivalry series is dead. Some fans anticipate that Thanksgiving Day game may not continue in the very near future. Not only does the game have any league standing, the rivalry is not what
it used to be.
Both LSA and EPHS voted against the playoff change when announced in 2014. "We tried to convince the league to keep Thanksgiving Day as a league game for us," said former East Providence Athletic Director Bob Duarte in 2015 comments. "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 Duarte.
Officials from LaSalle and East Providence are hoping to keep the tradition going. "The change in the format certainly had an impact on the Thanksgiving game," said La Salle's Ted Quigley. "When I became La Salle's AD in 2000, it was close to the peak of the current rivalry. Everything about the game was magnified. In the 1990's. Ken Reall (former EP AD) started the "Good Faith" dinner prior to the game. It was attended by the coaches, captains, and administration from each school. Phil Ricci (former EP AD) and I continued the tradition and expanded it to include all of the seniors on each team. That lasted almost 20 years. The 2001 game was probably the most watched high school football game in Rhode Island in the past 50 years. People were sitting along the grass berm by the main entrance because the bleachers were full. Both teams were undefeated coming into the game and the atmosphere was electric. Each year, if the game wasn't being played to determine a champion, it was played for seeding in the playoffs. Once the game became a non-league game, much of the excitement was lost," added Quigley.
"Because the game is now played after the playoffs are concluded and the championship has been decided, it has lost its competitive luster. It has become, in essence, a glorified exhibition game. This is not the Thanksgiving day rivalry we all grew up with and enjoyed so very much. We are keeping tradition alive but it is certainly a far cry from the glory years," said East Providence current Athletic Director Gregg Amore.
"I would hope that the game would continue, but so much of the enthusiasm for it has waned. Attendance has gone from counting it by the thousands to counting it by the hundreds. However, high school sports are very cyclical. Things have a tendency to come around. This is the longest in-state rivalry in Rhode Island. We are less than ten years from the anniversary of the first game in 1927. It would be a shame to see it end, but I am also realistic enough to know that not everyone feels that way," Quigley said. Both Amore and Quigley agree that "tradition and pride still make it worth it to play the game. The long break is a huge detriment, however. It is hard to keep kids motivated for that long without playing a game."
A few more Thanksgiving Day traditions have gone with the wind. Everybody's favorite store, Benny's is now closed. Benny's was always busy with Thanksgiving weekend holiday shoppers but in its place will be a Dollar General. Another East Providence institution on Thanksgiving weekend is the now-demolished Bovi's Town Tavern. Bovi's was the unofficial reunion spot for graduates of EP and LaSalle. It would start for many with reunion parties on the Wednesday night and continue with a morning visit before the Thursday football game for a beverage and game predictions. The rest of the weekend saw many impromptu gatherings at many local venues. Many now meet at the 133 Club on Warren avenue on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Rumors also have some Townie football grads meeting at the Field House Pub on Lyon avenue early Thursday morning.
The traditions have changed a little but the basics are still hanging in there. It will be the Townies against old rival LaSalle at Pierce on Thanksgiving morning. The reunions will continue throughout the city. One thing won't change. A lot of turkey will be consumed and the wonderful aroma of turkey, all the fixings and pies will be in the air.
La Salle's AD Ted Quigley Shares Best Memories of THE Game
"Some of my fondest memories as the La Salle Athletic Director come from the game. Phil Ricci, Joe Medeiros, and I would have a meeting with Joe Crook in his office early in the week. We would have an entire game plan laid out for the game. We had some funny moments over the years, too. When Ed Cronan retired from EP and came to work at La Salle, he would come to the game and stand right in the middle of the entrance wearing his URI blue and white colors. One year, the game was being televised live by Cox Communications. We had to make an early decision whether to play or not due to rain. At 9:00 am, Joe Medeiros and I sat in his office looking at the radar knowing we were going to get soaked. But it wasn't raining yet and both teams had already showed up, so there was nothing we could do. I think I have a pair of shoes that are still wet 13 years later. Sun, rain, snow, or cold, it was always an event to look forward to." - Ted Quigley.
Townie Home Game This Year
The game this year is at Pierce Stadium and will probably be lightly attended. In the heyday of Townie-Ram football, 8,000 to 10,000 fans would attend, often lining up at the famed Pierce Stadium gates at 8 am for the 10:00 game. Only the diehards show up now. EP always brought more fans to the game than LSA, even when traveling to Providence. The Townie fans would fill up the old wooden stands at LSA and rim the field with standing room crowds. About the only tradition which has endured is the Townie marching band. "Football teams are up and down but the band must always perform and sound good," said former band director Jack McNamara. He's right. The band continues to dazzle and performs one of the best halftime shows as well as old-school rah-rah fun in the stands during the game. Current Townie band director Marisa Martinez Silva is continuing that rich tradition. And the band has been invited to march in the National Memorial Day Parade in May 2020. By the way, the band is fund raising for the trip if you would like to help.
LaSalle and East Providence Lead RI in State Championships
Call it the super bowl, Division 1 Championship, Class A Title, whatever you want but the fact remains that LaSalle and the Townies are one-two in state championship football banners. LaSalle has won 17 titles and EPHS has 15 state championships. It is expected however that the Rams will be surpassed shortly by Hendricken High School. Like LaSalle, Hendricken can accept student athletes from any city and town they so choose. Hendricken, 14 state titles, has dominated Super Bowl play winning 8 of the last 9 super bowls. The only blemish to the Hawks dominance was the 22-21 exciting last second win by LaSalle in 2017. Hendricken bounced back with a 42-6 win last year. There won't be a Hawks-Ram rematch this year as LSA is not in Super Bowl contention with two losses.
East Providence won state championships in 1943, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1979, 1980, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2006. The Townies handled Hendricken well through the years. The Hawks bested the Townies 26-12 in 1995 but EP then beat the Hawks 26-0 in 1997, 12-6 in OT in 1999 and again 35-12 in 2006. The Townies beat LSA in super bowl games in 2002, 35-21, and in 2003, 19-6. LSA won the title in 2001, 26-18.
LaSalle state titles were in 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1942, 1943 (tied with EP), 1944, 1945, 1948, 1951, 1955,2000, 2001, 2008 and 2017. LSA won the title over EP in 1938, 1942 and in 2001.
Thanksgiving Day Stats
La Salle 51 wins, East Providence 37 and two ties
1927- East Providence 6-0
1928- no game
1929- La Salle (1) 19-6
1930- East Providence (1) 8-0
1931- La Salle (2) 50-0
1932- East Providence (2) 13-0
1933- Tied 0-0
1934- La Salle (3) 13-0
1935- La Salle (4) 7-0
1936- La Salle (5) 18-6
1937- East Providence (3) 13-2
1938- La Salle (6) 13-0
1939- East Providence (4) 10-0
1941- La Salle (7) 12-0
1942- La Salle (8) 12-0
1943- La Salle (9) 19-6
1944- La Salle (10) 13-0
1945- La Salle (11) 13-0
1946- La Salle (12) 18-12
1947- La Salle (13) 24-6
1948- La Salle (14) 19-0
1949- East Providence (5) 19-0
1950- East Providence (6) 13-6
1951- La Salle (15) 7-0
1952- La Salle (16) 34-0
1953- East Providence (7) 13-0
1954- East Providence (8) 13-7
1955- La Salle (17) 26-0
1956- East Providence (9) 7-0
1957- La Salle (18) 24-7
1958- La Salle (19) 26-14
1959- La Salle (20) 19-14
1960- East Providence (10) 25-13
1961- East Providence (11) 21-7
1962- East Providence (12) 16-0
1963- East Providence (13) 27-14
1964- East Providence (14) 16-0
1965- East Providence (15) 14-6
1966- East Providence (16) 57-7
1967- East Providence (17) 27-0
1968- La Salle (21) 27-20
1969- East Providence (18) 17-0
1970- East Providence (19) 13-6
1971- La Salle (22) 14-7
1972- East Providence (20) 34-12
1973- East Providence (21) 28-26
1974- La Salle (23) 12-10
1975- La Salle (24) 29-22
1976- La Salle (25) 20-6
1977- East Providence (22) 13-7
1978- East Providence (23) 17-0
1979- East Providence (24) 29-0
1980- East Providence (25) 39-14
1981- La Salle (26) 20-0
1982- East Providence (26) 20-7
1983- East Providence (27) 30-19
1984- East Providence (28) 28-8
1985- La Salle (27) 34-12
1986- La Salle (28) 30-7
1987- La Salle (29) 26-15
1988- La Salle (30) 26-20
1989- La Salle (31) 20-6
1990- La Salle (32) 45-0
1991- La Salle (33) 44-36
1992- La Salle (34) 50-6
1993- East Providence (29) 41-6
1994- La Salle (35) 28-22
1995- East Providence (30) 8-6
1996- La Salle (36) 34-12
1997- East Providence (31) 34-6
1998- East Providence (32) 31-6
1999- East Providence (33) 33-8
2000- La Salle (37) 14-6
2001- La Salle (38) 35-6
2002- La Salle (39) 21-12
2003- East Providence (34) 28-27 OT
2004- La Salle (40) 26-7
2005- La Salle (41) 15-7
2006- East Providence (35) 12-8
2007- La Salle (42) 21-19
2008- La Salle (43) 54-27
2009- La Salle (44) 48-34
2010- La Salle (45) 14-6
2011- La Salle (46) 34-13
2012- La Salle (47) 34-0
2013- La Salle (48) 30-6
2014- La Salle (49) 24-21
2015- East Providence (36) 41-23
2016- La Salle (50) 35-32
2017- East Providence (37) 41-0
2018- La Salle (51) 21-18
(some stats for this story provided by RIHSS records)