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A New Twist In America's Oldest High School Football Rivalry

Nicholas Bolt
Norwich Free Academy
The 1898 Norwich Free Academy football team. That high school has met up with New London High (formerly The Bulkeley School) 158 times since 1875.

The nation’s oldest high school football rivalry belongs to two Connecticut programs. New London and Norwich Free Academy will play for the 158th time this week in a game traditionally played on Thanksgiving.

But this year will be different.

The 2019 game will instead go down on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at NFA.

Lawrence Washington, the athletic director at New London High School, isn’t happy about the change and he’s blaming leadership at NFA for it.

“[NFA athletic director] Roy Wentworth should’ve reached out to me to have a conversation about the game being changed from Thursday to Wednesday because I feel this game is bigger than Roy and I,” Washington said.

Wentworth didn’t respond to a request for comment from Connecticut Public Radio.

The first game between the schools happened in May 1875, when New London High was known as The Bulkeley school. Since then, many of the games in what the National Football League has declared the nation’s oldest high school football rivalrywere played on Thanksgiving.

Washington said that because of the change to Wednesday afternoon, many parents will miss the game because they have to work, and swapping days poses a logistical nightmare.

“We’re not even talking about the fact that kids are going to be pulled out of school for this game, because we do have school -- NFA does not have school,” Washington said.

Credit CPTV Sports
CPTV Sports
An image captured from CPTV Sports' broadcast coverage of the 2014 edition of the New London/Norwich Free Academy rivalry game. NFA won that one 63-40 on Nov. 27.

At one point, the game was going to be played at night. But Norwich police Lt. John Perry said his department recommended to NFA administrators that the game be played during daylight hours.

“We did have information that there could be some type of juvenile activity which would have put some patrons of the game in a situation where their safety would be a concern.”

There were also concerns about game-day traffic spilling into a residential neighborhood near the football complex that isn’t well-lit.

A weekday game for NFA is not unheard of. While NFA does play a majority of its games on Saturday afternoons, the Wildcats have played at least one weekday game in 2019, on Nov. 8 against Killingly High School.

New London’s Washington vows that next year, when the Whalers host, the game will return to Thanksgiving.

Unofficially, Norwich Free Academy leads the rivalry 78-68. There have been 11 ties.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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