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November 22, 2012
In high school sports, few traditions are as timeless and widespread as Thanksgiving Day football games. They're not just contests, but rather community events, shared rivalries between generations of alumni.
New Jersey does not lack juicy Turkey Day series', and even years later, recalling these games evokes strong emotions in the current Scarlet Knights who played in them.
"In high school, the Thanksgiving game was everything really," said defensive end Marvin Booker, a Piscataway alum. "Nobody ever took it lightly. There was always something going on with some guys from Franklin talking. There was just a lot of history with that game, so it was always exciting and always emotional."
Wide receiver Quron Pratt played in three editions of one of the oldest Thanksgiving rivalries in New Jersey: Palmyra-Burlington City. The two neighboring schools have played every year since 1908, and the community bonds forged as a result of the game are strong.
"People from Palmyra, they stay in Palmyra. They live there," Pratt said. "My strength and conditioning coach played. His sons played. My dad played against them. A lot of the players on my team's parents played in that game. It's always been a big event every year."
One of the unique aspects of Thanksgiving football in the Garden State is the fact the holiday falls in between the semifinal and championship rounds of the state playoffs. Teams playing the following weekend for a sectional crown seemingly have incentive to take things easy to avoid injuries and keep players fresh, because after all, the result of this game doesn't matter as much as one in the postseason.
Try telling that to Gary Nova. During his two seasons (2009-10) as a starter at Don Bosco, Nova and his teammates played St. Joseph Regional (Montvale) on Turkey Day with both squads playing in their respective sectional finals one week later. The Ironmen won those two meetings by a combined score of 104-35,
"People say it doesn't matter, because even if we lose or win, we still get to play in the state championship, but it means a lot to the players, I know that, " Nova said. "It's always a huge game. To the players out there, it means a whole lot."
Though he won't be able to attend today's Piscataway-Franklin clash due to practice, Booker will take advantage of being local and spend some time sharing food and stories with ex-teammates and coaches in the Piscataway area.
Surely, the memory of the rivalry that Booker says stands out most to him will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation.
"I remember my senior year (2007), coming into school in the morning and they [Franklin] had spray-painted our field," Booker said. "We had a new scoreboard; they spray-painted our scoreboard. They spray-painted our press box and our 50-yard line. And I remember that some of the guys from Franklin were texting some of the guys they knew from our school and saying that they did it. We didn't really make a big deal about it. Our school cleaned it up.
"I remember that game, we had gotten an interception. Their running back came to block me. I remember I blocked him, I ran him up the sideline, and I scooped him into a place near our bench. That got their whole sideline going. I think that was the most memorable part."