Down and distance: Thanksgiving with out soccer hurts


For the primary time in virtually half a century, Abington soccer coach Jim Kelliher shall be waking up in his personal mattress on Thanksgiving morning.

The longest-tenured head highschool soccer coach in Massachusetts is a creature of behavior. He all the time felt it was simpler to remain on the college the evening earlier than the normal vacation contest, placing the ending touches on the sport plan.

“There was so many issues to do to prepare for the sport that it was simpler for me to sleep within the locker room,” mentioned Kelliher, the top coach at Abington since 1974. “I’d do some last-minute preparations, then get some sleep. It simply made extra sense for me to try this.”

Like many coaches within the state, the lack of Thanksgiving Day soccer as a result of coronavirus pandemic created a void many are fighting. Kelliher relished the annual Thanksgiving Day battle with Whitman-Hanson, the competition giving him a lifetime filled with recollections.

“I’ve been enjoying and training on this recreation for greater than 50 years now,” mentioned Kelliher, who captained the Abington squad in 1965. “My highschool teammate was Bob Bancroft and he wound up teaching at Whitman-Hanson, which made that recreation much more particular for me.”

Kelliher and Bancroft assembly collectively on Thanksgiving are simply one in all numerous tales which make the Turkey Day recreation an annual reunion of types. Shawsheen soccer coach/athletic administrators Al Costabile says a number of former gamers come again on Thanksgiving and one of many causes is to see who’s sporting their uniform now.

“That’s what actually makes the sport so particular,” mentioned Catholic Memorial coach John DiBiaso, who was fast to say inside earshot of his spouse Maureen that no Thanksgiving Day recreation meant extra chores round the home. “You simply see so many alumni coming round, individuals you may not have seen for years. I’d like to rise up early on Thanksgiving, head to the sphere and see a number of former gamers, teammates and the households.”

A type of households DiBiaso may see was the McGowans. For practically a decade, the McGowans would head from Canton to both West Roxbury or Dorchester to see their son Jack (now at Harvard), Owen (a senior) and Brady (a sophomore) competing for Catholic Memorial towards BC Excessive.

“Actually Thanksgiving Day has been a giant day in our home,” mentioned Brian McGowan, the patriarch of the household. “It’s one of many issues we actually regarded ahead and we’re going to miss. The youngsters are working arduous, however with no soccer, it’s been robust.”

Owen McGowan has blossomed into one of many high linebackers in New England. The Boston Faculty-bound recruit has been on the sphere for the previous two Catholic Memorial victories on Thanksgiving and was trying ahead to a possibility to increase that streak to 3.

“It’s undoubtedly a bizarre feeling not have a Thanksgiving Day this 12 months,” McGowan mentioned. “Being a senior, it makes it ever more durable since you all the time need to have that final reminiscence of a Thanksgiving Day recreation.

“I really like enjoying towards BC Excessive as a result of it’s such a giant rivalry. That recreation means a lot to us as a result of BC Excessive is nearly double the dimensions and enrollment that we have now so we go in there with an underdog mentality.”

Thanksgiving Day is famend for coaches throwing out all of the previous cliches: “something can occur” … “you possibly can throw out the data when these groups meet” … . It’s additionally a day the place legacies are cemented by main a staff to victory with one thing on the road.

Think about St. John’s Prep coach Brian St. Pierre. His 43-yard landing jaunt, adopted by a two-point conversion run by Brian Lentz within the fourth quarter, gave the Eagles a 15-14 victory over Xaverian within the legendary 1997 Thanksgiving Day traditional, giving his staff the Catholic Convention crown.

“Folks nonetheless deliver it as much as today,” St. Pierre mentioned. “I nonetheless keep in mind how massive the gang was (an estimated 10,000) and the way good the 2 groups had been. I don’t assume it was the best-played recreation due to the climate circumstances, however we had been the 2 finest groups in New England that 12 months.”

The recollections should not restricted to the profitable facet. Mark Ciccarelli performed at Central Catholic within the early Eighties and his highschool profession ended with a loss to Andover in 1983. As a lot because the loss stung, he was blissful to be a part of one of many greatest Thanksgiving Day rivalries within the Merrimack Valley.

“We didn’t care what the report was, Andover was the most important recreation of the 12 months,” mentioned Ciccarelli, now a lieutenant within the Lawrence police division. “My senior 12 months, we misplaced the sport 12-6, however simply enjoying in that recreation was particular. I nonetheless have a photograph of myself and Kevin Sullivan and I get choked up each time I see it. I simply liked enjoying soccer – it’s the best sport.”

Ciccarelli hoped to see his son put on the Central Catholic uniform for the ultimate time on Thanksgiving towards Lawrence. The void has pressured the senior Ciccarelli to turn out to be greater than only a guardian.

“I simply inform him that that is robust, however you simply have to have the ability to plow by means of it,” Ciccarelli mentioned. “Each time we appear to make progress, the rug will get pulled out from beneath these youngsters. We watch a Jimmy Johnson video the place he talks about fatigue making cowards out of us as a reminder to Mark that he has to have the ability to battle although this and present psychological toughness.”

The Thanksgiving Day recreation itself is particular, however many really feel it’s solely a part of the expertise. Like a prepare dinner who spends all day within the kitchen making ready a meal which can get devoured in minutes, the sport itself is 2 hours lengthy. The week main as much as the sport is one thing coaches are lacking.

“I liked Thanksgiving week,” Costabile mentioned. “The Wednesday follow earlier than the sport, we’d get out of faculty early, head to the locker room for follow and there was an electrical energy within the air. Then the day of the sport comes round and children are entering into the locker room sooner than normal, the music is blaring loads louder – there’s simply a number of pleasure.”

Soccer follow at Central Catholic on a standard Thanksgiving Day week is akin to an alumni reunion. Chuck Adamopoulos has been the top coach of the Raiders since 1997 and the custom by no means will get previous for him.

“The Thanksgiving Day recreation is exclusive in itself, however that is my favourite time of the 12 months,” Adamopoulos mentioned. “It’s my favourite week due to the thrill main as much as the sport. It’s additionally fairly particular as a result of we get a number of former gamers coming by follow and it’s nice to see them. It’s a reasonably emotional week as a result of, for lots of those seniors, it’s the final time they are going to play soccer.”

At Stoneham, the Burning of the Boot is a Wednesday custom that brings many to tears. Head coach Bob Almeida has been a head coach at 4 completely different colleges since 1990 and says that is as emotional a ceremony as any he’s been round.

“The entire week may be very particular, however the burning of the boot is particular,” Almeida mentioned. “We have now a bonfire the place every senior will throw some particular memento into the hearth, it could possibly be a cleat, an previous t-shirt or one thing like that. Proper after that, they are going to say one thing on the staff and it’s fairly emotional.

“I really feel actually dangerous that the seniors are going to overlook out on that.”

Bridgewater-Raynham coach Dan Buron joked that he’ll be capable of sleep in a bit later and truly be dwelling on supper time for as soon as. However he admitted not giving his senior gamers a correct sendoff bothers him.

“Not with the ability to say goodbye to the seniors after the sport shall be robust,” Buron mentioned. “Most of these senior gamers we labored with for 4 years and constructed up a camaraderie over the season. It’s a big day and I really feel badly for all the children who’re lacking out.”

It isn’t simply gamers, coaches and their households who’re feeling the void this Thanksgiving. Joe Cacciatore assigns officers for 5 completely different leagues and has labored a Thanksgiving Day recreation yearly since 1982. Not placing on the stripes early Thanksgiving morning is one thing Cacciatore remains to be coming to grips with.

“Each time I discuss to one in all my officers, all we discuss is what are we going to do with no Thanksgiving soccer,” Cacciatore mentioned. “It’s so bizarre not making ready the evening earlier than the sport, heading out at 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to fulfill up with my crew for breakfast or going out with them after the sport.

“I’ll miss the chance to officiate on Thanksgiving, however I really feel so dangerous for the highschool youngsters who’re lacking out on an opportunity to play on such a big day.”

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