STONINGTON — For the first time in almost a century, Westerly High and Stonington High will not play each other in a football game scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, another victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
That was the sobering news for both schools Friday as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association announced its plans for the fall sports season.
The CIAC roadmap does not allow any out-of-state competition. The plan calls for the football regular season to end on Oct. 30 with "tourney experience" contests taking place Nov. 2-15.
It is unclear if there is any process that allows for Stonington to petition the CIAC to request an exception.
The game was scheduled to be played at Westerly this season.
"I don't think it will happen on Thanksgiving," Stonington athletic director Byron Morrone said. "What they put out today will not allow it. That doesn't mean we won't try to have some game on another day. It would have to be approved by the CIAC and the RIIL [Rhode Island Interscholastic League]."
Stonington coach A.J. Massengale, who will begin his 17th season this year, is hopeful the two schools can find a way to play.
"I hate to think of us not being able to have that game," Massengale said. "Hopefully, we can make something happen. It's something we want to see, but at the same time with all the ups and downs we've gone through, just getting to have anything is a blessing on its own."
All high school sports in Connecticut will be played on a regional basis to limit travel and the spread of the virus, according to the CIAC plan.
"I know we are in different states, but there is no school closer to us geographically than Westerly," Massengale said. "We are one community."
Morrone said the regional concept may require schools like Grasso Tech, Windham Tech and Parish Hill to play ECC schools in a variety of sports.
Playing football or any contact sport is still a concern to some.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel from the University of Pennsylvania said during Gov. Ned Lamont's press briefing on Thursday that high school football or “contact sports of any type” should not be played this fall, according to an Associated Press story. Emanuel is an oncologist and former White House health adviser.
“I understand giving up something that is a crucial part of your life,” said Emanuel, who was a swimmer in school. “But we do need to be safe and put safety number one. And I think contact sports are not a good idea. I think for one year, we’re probably going to have to take a miss on it,” he said.
Morrone said ECC officials discussed Dr. Emanuel's comments during an executive board meeting on Friday.
"We agreed at this point to just follow the CIAC," Morrone said. "Ultimately, this is about the social aspect the kids are losing out on. Prior to COVID, we even had concerns about socialization due to technology. They need to be back with their friends and doing something they love."
Massengale, a teacher at the school and the parent of two adolescent sons, said it is important to return to the field.
"Football, soccer, cross country, field hockey, they need to have that part of their educational experience," Massengale said. "They need to be able to go out and compete, work together and have shared goals. I think it's incredibly important, and I am speaking as much as a parent as I am a coach."
Football practice in cohorts of 15 will begin on Aug. 17, with the first games scheduled for Sept. 24. Teams will plays six regular-season contests.
Morrone said the "playoff experience" games would also be regional.
Morrone said at this point it is unlikely spectators will be allowed at games. All games, varsity or junior varsity, played at Stonington's Donald E. Palmer field will be streamed on the National Federation of High Schools network where fans may view them.
Stonington and Westerly first started playing football in 1911. The first Thanksgiving Day game was played in 1913.
The two teams played each other the following Thanksgiving in 1914, but did not play again on Turkey Day until 1922. They have played a game scheduled for Thanksgiving every year since. (A few times the game has been forced to another day due to inclement weather.)
The two teams did not play in the 1920 or 1921 seasons, the last time there was not a game.
The game is well attended, often attracting crowds in the 3,000 to 4,000 range.
Both schools conduct pep rallies the day of the game that are often attended by parents, relatives and alumni.
A number of other events are also conducted in the communities prior to the game, including a captain's banquet attended by players and coaches from both teams. Former players, coaches and others associated with the contest also attend.
Both schools also have in-school spirit events in the week before the game. The outcome of the game is often a part of speeches given by top students during graduation ceremonies.