March 28, 2014 10:38PM
By BOB MARR
Sun Staff Writer
WOOD RIVER JCT. — Thanksgiving Day football for Chariho High is headed in a new direction.
The Chargers will no longer be playing Exeter-West Greenwich. Beginning in the fall, they will play Narragansett.
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s new scheduling format is the reason for the change. The governing body wanted to end the football season earlier and eliminate teams having to play three times in a span of 10 days. To accomplish this, all Thanksgiving games would have to be nonleague games since quarterfinal and semifinal playoff games would have to be played prior to the holiday.
That also meant, however, that a few teams that are in the same league could have played two or three times — once in the regular season, on Thanksgiving and again after the holiday in a Super Bowl.
Narragansett and East Greenwich are two of the teams that could have found themselves in that boat. As a result, all four schools agreed to change their Thanksgiving opponent.
Exeter-West Greenwich will be playing East Greenwich.
Chariho will host Narragansett in this year’s holiday game.
“Obviously a chapter is closed now,” Chariho coach Mike Kelly said. “We started together. We don’t have that long a tradition, but they’re a big part of it because we started (football) at the same time.
Chariho had football from 1974 through 1976, but dropped the sport until 1996. EWG’s first football season was 1995. The school opened in 1990.
Chariho and EWG both played in Division IV from 1996 through 2003 so the holiday game also was a league contest.
“Early on, a lot of times the game meant a playoff berth for one or the other or both,” Kelly said. “It’s definitely going to be missed, but if you had to replace them you probably couldn’t have picked a better team.”
Chariho has played Narragansett nearly as many times as it has played the Scarlet Knights. And for several years Chariho and Narragansett’s junior varsity squads have wrapped up their seasons with a game the week before Thanksgiving.
“That was big for the younger guys. It was a chance to be in the spotlight,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the JV game might be even bigger now.
“It almost becomes a two-part event,” he said.
While Narragansett and Chariho have played 16 games (the Mariners winning nine times), the teams have met in week one eight years in a row and nine times overall.
Playing on Thanksgiving will add extra oomph to the game.
“No question about it,” Kelly said. “Week one, no matter who you’re playing, neither team knows who they are yet. There’s a different way you prepare for that game (with a full season ahead). Playing them at the end adds a little more to it.”
In addition to eliminating the three games in 10 days, the earlier ending to the season will benefit basketball players and teams.
“It came down to not something we really wanted to do but something that had to happen the way the schedules worked out,” Narragansett Athletic Director Richard Adham said.
“I don’t view it as a too big a deal because we’ve always played Chariho and we have a very nice relationship with Chariho. In fact, our last JV game every year is against Chariho. We kind of look at it as our Super Bowl for JV.”
Narragansett opened its gates in 1975. The Mariners played South Kingstown on Thanksgiving through the 1999 season, the Rebels winning 15 times including the final eight. Narragansett played East Greenwich 14 times, Narragansett winning eight times.
“When we left SK and picked up East Greenwich there were some people who were not all that thrilled. But they just outgrew us,” Adham said. “I was a young teacher. I started in 1976 and it was a wonderful rivalry but it got to the point where we just couldn’t compete with them year in and year out. With football a lot of it is numbers and they’re a lot bigger than us.”
Narragansett and East Greenwich, who are both in Division III, played on Thanksgiving eve when the game was played at EG and on Thanksgiving Day when it was Narragansett’s turn to host.
He’d like to see the same thing happen with Chariho.
“I think it would be nice to alternate every other year because it gives families a chance to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day,” he said.
“I view that as a real possibility. We’re hoping to eventually get lights, and they have lights at Chariho. When you play every year on Thanksgiving you can’t go anywhere and visit someone.”
As this is his 10th and final year as athletic director, Adham said he is sure it will come up for discussion but he will not be part of the decision.
Kelly was blindsided by the question of whether he’d consider playing on the night before Thanksgiving.
“I’d be awfully close-minded if I didn’t want to consider everything,” he said. “But the decision is not all mine to make, obviously. I’m an old guy who likes the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game, but I’m sure we’ll consider it.”
Exeter-West Greenwich coach Jim Alves was pleased as punch that the league eliminated the three games in 10 days logjam.
“That’s a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Three games in 10 days — and the most important three games — is ludicrious especially for a school our size.”
EWG and EG are not football strangers. The schools have played nonleague games the last seven or eight years, Alves said.
Alves said he likes the idea of playing the night before every other season.
Narragansett and Exeter-West Greenwich are both small schools of about 500 students.
Chariho won 13 of the 18 games against EWG, which played continuously once a year since 1996.
“Sometimes it was a real competitive game and sometimes it was kind of embarrassing that we couldn’t give them a game,” Alves said.
EWG won last season, 26-22.
The winners of the 16 previous Chariho-Narragansett games are:
1996: Narragansett 24-7
1997: Narragansett 35-6
1998: Narragansett 26-8
1999: Narragansett 29-0
2000: Chariho 15-14
2001: Narragansett 21-6
2002: Chariho 30-27
2003: Narragansett 8-6
2006: Chariho 20-0
2007: Chariho 18-13
2008: Narragansett 26-6
2009: Narragansett 20-18 *
2010: Narragansett 21-0
2011: Chariho 37-21
2012: Chariho 21-6
2013: Chariho 20-14
* double overtime.
In addition to the Thanksgiving game changes, the RIIL realigned all four divisions.
Chariho and Westerly are now in Division II-B.
There are eight teams in Division II-B, only three of whom were in the same league last season — Chariho, Westerly and Johnston were in II-A.
The other five teams in II-B are Moses Brown, Mount Pleasant, North Kingstown, Tolman and West Warwick.
Moses Brown went 8-1 in Division III last season, losing to Mount Pleasant (9-0) in the Super Bowl.
North Kingstown and West Warwick were two of the five teams that tied for first place in Division II-B with 5-2 records. West Warwick won the II Super Bowl against Cumberland.
Tolman, a longtime Division II team, finished 0-8 in Division I last season.
Cumberland moved up to Division I, joining seven holdovers — Super Bowl champion Hendricken, Super Bowl runner-up Cranston East, Barrington, Portsmouth, La Salle, Cranston West, East Providence and South Kingstown.
Division III is Classical, East Greenwich, Hope (up from D-IV), Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, Pilgrim (down from D-II), Ponaganset and Toll Gate (down from D-II).
Division IV is Burrillville (down from III), Central Falls, EWG, North Providence, North Smithfield, Scituate, Smithfield, Tiverton (down from III) and PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez.