NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- Every year, for about 20 years, the Pioneers and Highlanders face off on the gridiron on Thanksgiving Day. That could change this year.
Superintendent of Schools David Miceli introduced the issue during the “New Business” portion of the Feb. 27 meeting of the school board. Athletic Director Vincent Carangelo was unable to attend the meeting, but he provided a detailed memo to all members of the board on the pros and cons of the Thanksgiving Day game.
Miceli said he, Carangelo and High School Principal Lauren Zirpoli met with their counterparts in Berkeley Heights to talk about the annual event which draws parents, community members and alumni from both towns.
There are three main issues with continuing the tradition. The first is that holding the game on Thanksgiving Day means there are players, custodians, maintenance staff and coaches at the school from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on a holiday. “Even though people attending the game can leave when they want, the people working the game can’t. We would like to find a way to not impact the holiday,” Miceli said.
The second issue is the NJSIAA seems to be contemplating a change in the playoff system so there will be a true state champion. The changes needed to achieve that would extend the football season at least one week, and possibly two -- one at the beginning of the season, the other at the end, Miceli said.
The third issue is an old one. The state sectional championships are played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Miceli said, “For a number of years we made it through the playoffs to that championship game.” The problem was there were “years when we lost players to injuries in that (Thanksgiving Day) game, and they couldn’t play in the championship game,” he said. He conceded there were years when the Pioneers were “very successful and lucky” and got through the Thanksgiving Day game and went on to be successful in the championship game,” but the last time that happened was in 2010.
In 2020 New Providence, which has lights, is hosting the Thanksgiving Day game, and Miceli said he favors switching the game to Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving, starting at 5 p.m. That still gives the community and alumni the opportunity to come to the game, for the marching bands and cheerleaders to compete, and doesn’t impact the holiday, he said.
Berkeley Heights can decide if they want to rent lights in 2021, and have the game on Wednesday night, or hold the game on Thanksgiving Day, he said.
Miceli said he is looking at these two years as an opportunity to try a new system, since the schools are already locked into their schedules for those years. In year three, it is possible there could be changes coming from the NJSIAA.
If the state imposes a new structure, Miceli proposed having the first official game of the season in “week zero,” which would probably be in August. They could call it the “Kickoff Classic” and include a lot of ceremony around it, he said.
On the plus side, Miceli said if they do meet their Berkeley Heights rivals early in the season, they could accumulate points, which could prevent what happened recently, when the Pioneers had an undefeated season, but were seeded seventh or eighth, rather than first or second.
Board member Adam Smith said he didn’t think changing the game from Thursday to Wednesday was “that big a deal.” He called the game on Thanksgiving a “tremendous inconvenience for the staff. If we can give them that day off, I think that’s a good idea.”
Other board members agreed.
The Berkeley Heights Board of Education is expected to discuss the proposed change at an upcoming meeting of the board.