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High school football at Fenway should be a tradition

Needham’s Joe Gowetski (58) had the play of the day, but everyone involved with high school football got into the action at Fenway Park.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Yard lines, Yawkey Way and Turkey Day. It's a new homemade recipe for instant tradition and indelible football memories.

Instant tradition is an oxymoron. But that's what playing high school football games at Fenway Park on Thanksgiving felt like. The setting was both novel and natural. The only question is why it took this long for our local Field of Dreams to play host to one our most hallowed local sports traditions? It's a match as ideal as turkey and mashed potatoes.

The Red Sox hit a home run hosting high school football games at Fenway Park for the first time since 1935, starting with Wednesday night contests between Xaverian and St. John's Prep and BC High and Catholic Memorial and continuing with a Thanksgiving Day doubleheader featuring Needham-Wellesley and Boston Latin-Boston English.


The combination of a time-honored ritual and the famed tableau provided by the most iconic sports venue in New England spawned a wonderful experience for players, coaches and spectators. This should be the new high school football tradition. Everyone remembers the first time they went to see a Red Sox game at Fenway and came up the ramp to see Fenway unfold in front of them in all its verdant splendor. Now, imagine the feeling of playing on that field.

A ballpark that traffics in history and stands as the oldest in Major League Baseball couldn't have picked two more fitting rivalries to return Thanksgiving football to its confines for the first time since 1933.

Needham and Wellesley own the oldest public high school football rivalry in the country, first playing in 1882, the year Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born. Boston Latin and Boston English, which first squared off in 1887, are keepers of the flame for the oldest continuously played high school football rivalry in the country.


In a nail-biter with an interception for the ages, Needham defeated Wellesley, 12-7, to narrow Wellesley's advantage in the series to 60-59-9. In the second game, Boston Latin downed a resilient Boston English squad, 28-6, in the teams' 129th meeting. The victory sent retiring Latin coach John McDonough out on a historic high note.

We'll never be confused with Odessa, Texas, the football crazed, hard-scrabble town in "Friday Night Lights" — Buzz Bissinger's seminal look at high school football. However, according to Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, who was in attendance, the Wednesday night games drew more than 16,000 fans, and Thanksgiving brought approximately 11,000 fans. (Tickets were $20, with $5 of each ticket going back to the schools.)

The Green Monster's manual scoreboard showed the linescores from the games with "NEED" and "WELL" and "ENGLISH" and "LATIN" used in place of the familiar baseball team abbreviations.

The concession stands underneath the grandstand were open, the smell of sausages wafting through the concourse as fans poured in through Gate B.

There were fans tucked on the fair side of the Pesky Pole. Wellesley's band was seated right next to Canvas Alley.

The Standells' Fenway standard, "Dirty Water," played after Boston Latin defeated Boston English.

The edifice left an impression on the participants, especially Boston English lineman Keishawn Guillarme, who stepped foot in Fenway for the first time.

"I've never been to Fenway Park before. I just have drove by it," said Guillarme. "A lot of legends are here, I'm just happy that I can say I stepped in the same footsteps as them."


The Play of the Day at Fenway — and one for Thanksgiving Day lore — belonged to Needham's Joe Gowetski.

With the Rockets trailing, 7-6, and Wellesley poised to pad its lead just before the half, Gowetski stepped in front of a pass from Jake Mohan and raced 97 yards, toward the right-field bullpens, for a touchdown on the final play of the half.

A goal line stand by Needham with 3:46 to go made Gowetski's interception return stand up as the final margin.

Mohan and Gowetski shared the cover of the Globe's special section on the return of high school football to Fenway. Now, they'll share a piece of rivalry history.

If Gowetski has kids and brings them to Fenway one day — what, you think the old Green Lady is going anywhere? — he will tell them of his heroics on the same stage for the athletic exploits of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz.

"Yeah, it will be something special to tell my kids for sure," Gowetski said. "We were saying that before the game. With all the great players that have walked on this field, it's something special to be a part of."

Thanksgiving games at Fenway might be precisely what is needed to preserve the tradition of high school football on Turkey Day.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) playoff format has deprived the football rite of some of its sacred status. It could eventually make it extinct.


The participants in the high school Super Bowls Dec. 5 at Gillette Stadium were set before Thanksgiving.

Some teams are faced with a choice of honoring their rivalry or prioritizing health for their biggest game of the season. In states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the playoff system has stripped the reverence from Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving football is about more than points, yards, and the final score. It's about making memories, sharing moments with friends and family, and renewing bonds.

Fenway is like the Patriots in that regard — perfect.

"I feel really bad for the seniors last year because they didn't get to play here. I hope everyone else gets to play here, too," said Boston Latin's Daniel Bohan, who had a 21-yard touchdown reception and an interception.

All traditions have a starting point.

High school football at Fenway on Thanksgiving should go from a new tradition to a renewed one.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.