Toms River South-Lakewood Thanksgiving Football Rivalry Reinstated
One week after appearing to come to an end, the Shore Conference’s oldest football rivalry is back from the dead.
When the 2018 Shore Conference football schedule on was released on Jan. 12 a notable exclusion was the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Lakewood and Toms River South. The teams played for the 98th consecutive year in November, but Toms River South, citing having to choose between the Lakewood game and its “Civil War” rivalry game with Toms River North under the Shore Conference’s new alignment and the new NJSIAA playoff structure, opted to drop Lakewood from the schedule.
The notion of having to choose was misinterpreted, Toms River Regional Schools superintendent David Healy told the Asbury Park Press, and on Friday the school districts came to an agreement to reverse course and reinstate the rivalry.
Public pressure appears to have played a key role in the game’s reinstatement, as well.
Shore Sports Network’s social media pages featured several comments expressing disappointment in the rivalry being canceled, and a “Save Tradition Lakewood vs. South Thanksgiving Game” petition was even started on Care2.com to urge the Toms River school district to change its mind.
Lakewood head coach L.J. Clark and athletic director Vinnie Currao were also opposed to the rivalry’s cancelation and said Lakewood completed the necessary paperwork to have the game played in 2018.
“We did not want to cancel the game, we wanted to play the game and they (Toms River South) canceled it,” Clark told Shore Sports Network. “We put our paperwork in for it. That and Manchester were supposed to be our nondivisional games. We want to play it. We don’t have too much tradition in football but that’s one of them. We want to play it and we’re still fighting to get it played.”
On Tuesday, Toms River South principal James Ricotta Jr. explained in an online newsletter on Toms River South’s website that the decision to end the game was based on the uncertainty of whether Lakewood could field a football team in 2018, the success of the Toms River South vs. Toms River North game, the declining attendance of the Thanksgiving game and the struggle of hiring staff and security to work the game.
Under the new playoff format, teams play eight scheduled games during the regular season and teams that do not qualify for the playoffs will play in a regional crossover game. Those teams plus the teams which lose in the first round of the playoffs can add an additional game in Week 11 to give them 10 total games. Toms River South and Lakewood will not play a game in Week 11, meaning that if either does not make the playoffs or advance past the first round there will be a 20-day gap between their crossover/playoff game and the Thanksgiving game.
Toms River South leads the all-time series, 55-39-4. Lakewood has won each of the last two seasons, including 26-12 in 2017.
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