Thanksgiving Day Classic (1978-2018 Manchester V. Monsignor Donovan Tradition)

Five years ago was the end of a 40-year-long tradition between two High School Football teams.
Photo provided by Thomas Farrell
Photo provided by Thomas Farrell

From 1978-2018 Manchester Township High School and Monsignor Donovan annually competed against each other during the Thanksgiving season. 


In the past, many schools (approximately 80 in the state of New Jersey as of 1991) took part in a Thanksgiving Day Classic before the season would come to a close and the State Tournament. 


“Thanksgiving games were very common. St. Joseph did not have an opponent to play and Manchester was the newest school in the area. Consequently, they started a traditional rivalry that grew for 40 years” claims Keith Lister, Vice Principal and Manchester Township High School’s Athletic Director.


In 1978, the Hawk’s Nest hosted the very first Manchester V. Donovan (originally named St. Joseph) Thanksgiving Day game where they lost with a score of 6-7. Manchester would later have their first victory over Donovan Catholic in 1985 with a 6-0 game score. Their longest Thanksgiving winning streak came later lasting from 1996 up until 2002. 


The games originally took place on Thanksgiving, fans from both sides would come and show support as a part of the holiday tradition. 


Over time changes and adjustments needed to be made regarding the schedule. A recurring issue among the schools involved in a Thanksgiving game was the timing of the upcoming State Tournament. 


In 1991, after a change was issued regarding Central and the scheduling of their Thanksgiving match that fall season due to the State Championship, the public began voicing their concerns about these traditional games. 


“I feel it’s too early to tell right now…in order to get the proper playoff system, it seems you have to give up something. So the jury is still out on this,” claimed the athletic director, Jerry Golembeski, who told the Asbury Press on January 10, 1991. 


The fault between timing and events would cause the longing tradition to eventually fade out over time. Slowly becoming a thing of the past for schools around New Jersey, Manchester and Donovan ended their tradition by 2018.


“The tradition ended because we were no longer playing on Thanksgiving.  Most of those rivalries and traditions have stopped. Primarily, because of the State Tournament.  Thanksgiving games were putting the tournament on hold and schools would play these games and then resume the State Tournament the next week.  Coaches no longer wanted to risk getting their players hurt in these games and consequently not have them available for the State game the next week,” explains Lister. 


During the tradition, a trophy cycled between both schools. Per annum, the trophy would be awarded to the winning school where they would hold onto it until the next year’s game. The coveted trophy remains at Donovan as they won the very last game in 2017 with a score of 41-24. 


From 2009-2012, Manchester Township High School Football head Coach, Thomas Farrell, played in the games for Manchester’s rivaling team, Donovan Catholic. 


Farrell’s freshman year, 2009, became known as the “Mud Bowl” due to downpours and poor weather that resulted in a slippery playing field at Donovan. The trophy that year went to Donovan with a score of 6-3.


Post Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 game was a win for Donovan, playing at Manchester with a 56-19 score. In addition to the school taking home the trophy after a fumble recovery that ended the game, Donovan Catholic also took home the title of B-South Champs for the season.


The 2012 Thanksgiving game would be Coach Farrell’s last game in his high school football career. What Farrell refers to as his “most memorable football game” became a full circle moment as he would go on to be the head coach for the same team he bet, Manchester, returning to the field he left off at several years later. 


While the tradition between the two schools has ended and Manchester and Donovan no longer play in the same division, the memories and games remain an important aspect of both school’s history and rivaling relationship with one another. Like many traditions, the Thanksgiving Day Classic was able to bring two families together during the holiday season. 

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About the Contributor
Emily Johnson, Junior Content Editor
Emily Johnson is a second-year communications and journalism student and a member of the Class of 2025. She is on the varsity tennis team and winter/spring track teams. She hopes to be a sports journalist when she grows up.