Thanksgiving with the 4-day week-end makes for a chance for families far and wide to gather for this special holiday when we give thanks for what we have, to make memories, and the traditional turkey dinner.

But to residents on the Western Side of Sussex County none of the above brought more joy and energy than two traditional football games between Bridgeville and Delmar held in the morning, the Laurel-Seaford Thanksgiving Day football rivalry, until the state developed state-wide football tournaments in 1984 which moved the games to two weeks before Thanksgiving. The rivalry and enthusiasm between Laurel and Seaford has lessen since both Laurel/Seaford team have seen better days on the field. Their are barely enough fans to fill 1/3 of the bleachers. Delmar and Woodbridge are still competitive conference teams and their rivalry continues.

The Laurel traditional rivalry began in 1920; this year marks the 100th year of that competition. In 2001 the game was canceled because of racial threats which caused the competition to lose the status as the longest yearly rivalry in the state.

Although there were other rivalries on Thanksgiving, Bridgeville before consolidation and Delmar and a couple schools on the east side of the county, none were more competitive and drew larger crowds than the Laurel-Seaford contest where crowds of upward to 3000 plus attended the games mostly before either school built bleachers.

Daily newspapers in Maryland and Delaware had stories daily on the players; as sports editor of the former State Register I ran 3 full pages when newspaper pages were large and without any advertising on those pages about the game.

Delmar-Bridgeville played at 10:00 in the morning, then that crowd would move to the Laurel-Seaford game which started at 1:00.

The game was like a class reunion with former players and graduates from both communities coming from afar to attend the game.

The streak ended in 2001 as former Seaford coach Ben Sirman recalls, over “Fear” because of some racial incident in Bridgeville both schools agreed to cancel the game which caused the competition to lose the status as the longest yearly rivalry in the state.

People would bring peach baskets, and ladders so they could see over the standing room only crowd to see the competitive contest.

Seaford and Laurel actually began playing each other in 1920. Because of the limited number of schools having football teams, both schools played each other twice during a season from 1920-48 with the exception of 1922 and 1937.

Before the legendary George Schollenberger came to Laurel in 1930 Laurel held the edge in games, having an 11 game winning streak from 1923-28. In Schollenberger’s first season as head coach his team, not yet known as the Bulldogs, won 12-6.

The rivalry intensified when the Lions Clubs of the two communities made in 1946 what was to be known as the Lions Club Trophy that was given to the winning team with bragging rights until the next time the teams met.

The football was made of Walnut from a local tree in Laurel and the Nylon base holding the football from Seaford. The winning team is engraved on a plate attached to the nylon base.

During the era of Thanksgiving Day games the two teams played hard and tough till the final whistle blew. Regardless of your teams record going into the game, the Thanksgiving game was a new beginning. At stake was bragging rights and if you defeated your opponent, you had a winning season. Many former players may not recall their record that year, but they can give you a blow by blow description of the game and who won.

During the 1960’s the Jaycees of both communities presented a “Good Sportsmanship” trophy to a player from each team voted upon by the opposing players.

It was not an honor to win this award. No one wanted to be voted a ‘nice guy’ on this particular day. I never heard anyone say, “I won the good sportsmanship award.”

With the schedule change, and Seaford’s football program struggling, the Laurel-Delmar game has become more competitive with a trophy going to the winning team.

I had a tradition which began before I played football and continues to this day. Mom would cook her turkey early in the morning although dinner was not until I returned from the game.

My Uncle who was an alumni of Laurel but lived in Wilmington, would come down the night before with those famous fresh Italian baked rolls. On would go the turkey complete with mom’s home baked dressing, and a couple slabs of cranberry sauce.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven and I was ready for football. Now the sandwich comes between two slices of bread and the day after Thanksgiving. Not the same as the good ole days, but I’ll take it.

The two coaches had a special play or two reserved for that day, mostly by Blue Jay coach Bob Dowd, Laurel usually stuck to their basic plays mostly on the ground. Dowd was the first coach we played against I saw to have special teams; Schollenberger played his first team until they dropped.

One year I was announcing the Thanksgiving Day game, and out of no where Laurel played a reverse, first time I had seen it that year. The play was executed perfectly with the final hand-off given to Bulldog Ron Williams, (later an editor for the News Journal) as he circled to the opposite side of the field all alone.

Shocked and surprised, I blurted out, heard throughout the field, “it’s a reverse.” Seaford’s players stopped in their tracks, reversed course, found Williams and smothered him. Schollenberger and the Laurel bench looked up at me. What I said to myself I can’t print nor probably what Schollenberger was thinking. Needless to say “I retired” from announcing. Williams always pointed out I ruined his chance for fame.

Before the Thanksgiving Day game was played Schollenberger and Dowd would meet with the referees assigned to the game and urge the referees not to throw the flag so much and allow the kids to play. The games were clean, rough, especially if you were at the bottom of the pile and had the ball out of the view of the officials.

Seaford has won 67 games, Laurel 50 with 10 ties; two 0-0 scores in 1932-33 and 38; Highest score Seaford 1981, 82-0, Laurel, 2015, 70-0; oddest scores 2-0, 3-0 in 1931 and ’92 both won by Seaford; Each team has had 16 game winning streaks, Seaford 1975-1990, Laurel 2004-2019.

For years until after I graduated I figured Schollenberger and Dowd were arch rivals as much as their players were. I went to interview Schollenberger for a story; he was working in his garden, a favorite pastime of his, and along side of him was coach Dowd.

Dowd’s wife Jean told me later her husband and Schollenberger were the best of friends visiting each other often. Both retired by then, their competition now was to see who could grow the best garden she said. Thus the rivalry continued!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner; and try my sandwich. Have a good one and don’t forget that prayer of thanks before you eat.

Frank Calio is a former Delaware State Election Commissioner and resides in Laurel.

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