Tifton Gazette

Local Sports

November 21, 2012

Pigskin once as common as turkey

TIFTON — While prep teams today associate Thanksgiving games with state playoffs, a Turkey Day game used to be on the plate of most schools in the area. It was one of the most profitable games for teams and the bigger rivalry games were usually reserved for this day or Veterans Day.

Tifton High’s first season of 1914 saw them play their first Thanksgiving game, losing at the then-Valdosta High Tigers, 38-0. Valdosta would be their most common opponent in the early days, but in 1925, the Blue Devils found a lasting opponent: Fitzgerald. The first game saw the Devils fall, 6-0, but they would win the next two by shutout scores. The Purple Hurricanes would roll over them in 1930, 46-13, en route to a perfect 9-0-0 season and it would be the only game that was not close until 1939, when Tifton won a 54-6 blowout.

The schools kept up the Thanksgiving Day rivalry through war-shortened seasons and continue on after.  In 1949, the Canes nearly became the first blemish of the year for the Devils, who escaped 13-7 and would not be stopped until they were edged by Decatur in the Class A finals. The series and Thanksgiving games for Tifton would end after 1951, with the blue winning the final one, 18-13, and taking the overall series, 17-10.

Thanksgiving games halted for Tifton as the prep landscape had changed. The Georgia High School Association began regulating football playoffs in 1948. While previously Tift might play a conference championship game in the South Georgia Football Association (SGFA) and a “Class B” state title game if they won, playoffs now took more weeks to play, especially as their region, 1-A, was subdivided and required a region title game as well.

For others, the tradition died later as the GHSA did not outlaw regular season Thanksgiving contests until 1960. By this time, only a handful of teams were still playing them as the playoffs cut deeper and deeper into November. During the last season they were permitted, only two regular season games took place — Savannah against Benedictine and Irwin County battling Fitzgerald. For as big a rivalry game as the two would be, only twice would they meet on Thanksgiving, 1958 being the only other year.

For the other two schools still playing on this day in 1959, it was the final Thanksgiving battle in a long series. Benedictine’s and Savannah’s rivalry stretches way back to 1903 and the games on the holiday began in 1920. They were possibly the state’s most heated battle on this day and no doubt the most regular.

Valdosta and Moultrie played a series from 1928-41, which usually led to implications into the SGFA, though the results were thoroughly dominated by the Wildcats. The Packers would only capture the inaugural 1928 game. Before then, neither team could settle on the right opponent. Valdosta would play Thomasville in 1923 and 1924, Glynn Academy in 1925 and the Lanier Poets of Macon in 1926. Moultrie did not regularly play on the day before they found the Cats, with only a pair of games with Bainbridge and LaGrange on their slate.

Albany was another school playing a larger amount of Thanksgiving opponents in the early days.  The Poets filled the void for a few seasons before they were replaced by LaGrange, then a year with Americus before they established a holiday game with Thomasville. With the exception of 1939, they would play each other from 1928 to 1949. The Indians, then one of the state’s powerhouses, won most of the games in that span, going 13-6-1.

Smaller schools generally ended their seasons before Thanksgiving, but Ashburn is known to have scheduled a couple with Sylvester in the 1930s. Ocilla went into action against Douglas in 1928-29 and again with Baxley in 1947 when football was resumed after World War II. Nashville, too played that year, losing their lone Thanksgiving battle to Sylvester.

The Georgia Interscholastic Association, the league for African-American schools in the days of segregation, appears to have had no steadfast rule regarding games played on this day. In fact, the state’s last prep battle on Thanksgiving was one between GIA Savannah schools Beach and Tompkins in 1963. Their big game on this day, known as the Azalea Bowl, stretched back to 1953, when Tompkins was known as Woodville.

Locally, Tift County Industrial is only known to have played a handful of games. On their way to the Class B state championship in 1952, they defeated Holsey-Cobb Institute of Cordele, 46-0 at the old Tifton stadium. In 1950, a game on the Thursday resulted in another win, when they caged the Tigers from Washington High of Cairo,  21-7. While their Thanksgiving battles seem to have ended in 1952, the day after the holiday would be a lucky one. In 1965, they shutout Thomson’s R.L. Norris, 20-0 in a Class A semifinal game and in 1969, they would get Norris again, 16-2, in the Class AA semifinals. Unfortunately, luck would end there as both times, they would meet defeat in the finals: 1965 to Trinity of Decatur and in 1969 in the GIA’s final ever gridiron game, to Houston County Training.

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