November Means Tradition, Turkey and Football
November usually means the end of the nice fall weather season as the region begins to prepare for the doldrums of winter. It also means football and turkey for most. 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. A day for eating and visiting with family and friends. Thanksgiving is probably more associated with the word "Tradition" than any other major holiday.
The football rivalry between East Providence High and LaSalle Academy is a storied one. 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 2017 EP-LaSalle game will be the 89th 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 made the Thanksgiving Day game a non-league clash. Once the game had meaning with ramifications for playoff and super bowl appearances. Now the teams may choose to sit their starters on Thanksgiving to keep them fresh for playoffs. Another reason for the cooling down of the rivalry is the recent dominance of LaSalle in this series. The Rams now hold a commanding overall series advantage. On November 30, 1939 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.
The series has seen changing momentum swings. From 1929 through 1940 the series pretty much went back and forth between schools. LaSalle 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. LaSalle spanked EP in 1992 by a 50-6 score but EP returned the favor somewhat with a 41-6 victory the next year. The Townies also won State Championships in 1979, 1980, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003 and in 2006. EP is one of the last schools to defeat Hendricken in Super Bowls. And on it went, win one, lose one, until LaSalle gained dominance on Turkey Day.
East Providence and LaSalle Lead the State in Championships
Call it the super bowl, Division 1 Championship, Class A Title, whatever you want but the fact remains that the Townies still lead the state in championship football banners. Both EPHS and LaSalle have won 15 state football championships. It is expected however that both the Townies and Rams will be surpassed shortly by Hendricken High School. Like LaSalle, Hendricken can accept student athletes from any city and town they so choose. While the Townies and Rams each have 15 football titles, Cranston East has 14 and Hendricken, winners of the last 7 super bowls has 13 now.
The longest standing Thanksgiving Day rivalry in Rhode Island may not be quite the same, but many graduates of both schools will still be at Pierce Stadium this Thanksgiving. "The league changed the format in 2014 to the playoff process and only two teams - East Providence and LaSalle voted against this change making Thanksgiving Day a non-league game," added LaSalle Athletic Director Quigley.
The RI Interscholastic League (RIIL) Principal’s Committee on Athletics 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 the league's full time director Tom Mezzanotte.
"We tried to convince the league to keep Thanksgiving Day as a league game for us," said former East Providence Athletic Director Bob Duarte. "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 Duarte. "They could have made other arrangements," Duarte added. According to league officials, schools affected by this change are LaSalle Academy, East Providence High School, Cranston East High School, Cranston West High School, Scituate High School, North Smithfield High School, North Providence High School and Smithfield High School.
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 now sits vacant and quiet. Another East Providence institution on Thanksgiving weekend is shuttered and eerily quiet. Bovi's Town Tavern used to be an unofficial reunion spot for graduates of EP and LaSalle. It would start for some 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 the once famous Jazz Tavern.
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 at other venues like the 133 Club and other favorites. One thing won't change. A lot of turkey will be consumed and there will be visits to many grandma's kitchens.