The Thanksgiving Day rivalry between Catholic Central League opponents St. Mary’s and Bishop Fenwick is no more.
Both athletic directors, Fenwick’s Dave Woods and St. Mary’s Jeff Newhall, confirmed the decision, which was made shortly after the Crusaders defeated the Spartans, 60-0, during last season’s edition of the rivalry.
The two schools had just renewed a once-longstanding Turkey Day rivalry in 2015.
“While we may be disappointed that Bishop Fenwick has opted to end this holiday tradition that dates back to 1964, we certainly respect Fenwick’s decision to find a new Thanksgiving opponent and we wish them well,” said Newhall in a statement released Tuesday evening.
Fenwick will now play Malden Catholic, which opted out of all but one of its Catholic Conference football games last season, on Thanksgiving. St. Mary’s will start a new Thanksgiving rivalry with CCL opponent Austin Prep.
Fenwick and St. Mary’s began their rivalry in 1964. However, because the Classical-English game was always at Manning Bowl on Thanksgiving morning, St. Mary’s had to travel to Peabody for its game at Fenwick.
In 1985, then-Spartan coach Ray McDermott was the key factor in launching the “Thanksgiving Eve Classic,” where St. Mary’s would host a home game between the two schools every other year.
That arrangement lasted through 1991, and the teams did not face each other again until 2006. St. Mary’s and Lynn Tech became annual Thanksgiving-Eve rivals until 2015, at which time the Crusaders and Spartans resumed their holiday game.
In the interim, Fenwick went through many Thanksgiving opponents, among them Bellingham, Ayer, Whittier, Malden Catholic, Austin Prep and Pingree.
Fenwick’s four-year agreement with Malden Catholic was finalized last month.
“We’ve had a number of different Thanksgiving opponents over the years,” Woods, also coach of the football team, said. “We did play Malden Catholic for the first time when I first took over. It was a great rivalry. I think it’s two similar schools in terms of philosophy. We’re looking forward to renewing that rivalry. I know the kids get excited about playing them.
“They’re a very good, strong football program,” Woods said. “They’re used to a much higher level of competition. It’s a challenge for us. Thanksgiving’s always going to be a good game for us.”
“(The Fenwick-St. Mary’s game) was the original rivalry,” Woods said. “That was kind of why we brought it back.
“We’re looking forward to Malden Catholic and renewing that. Hopefully we can stay with Malden Catholic for a long time,” he said.
The Crusaders played, and defeated, Malden Catholic in 2018.
Since the renewal of the Fenwick-St. Mary’s game, the Spartans twice (2016, 2018) played in the Super Bowl the next week. In the other two (2015, 2017) the Spartans were coming off losses in the state semifinal. Newhall said the postseason runs the Spartans put together impacted how the rivalry ran its course.
“It’s unfortunate the Thanksgiving rivalry with Fenwick didn’t work,” Newhall said. “We played them four times and in those four times we were either going to the Super Bowl or coming off the Eastern Mass. final. It’s not an ideal situation for them to be in. It’s not an ideal situation for us to be in. But that’s football.
“I don’t think any of those four games were ideal, given the circumstances we were in,” Newhall said. “I can certainly see where their frustrations may come from.”
The Spartans came to an agreement with Austin Prep shortly after their loss to Fenwick in November.
“We’re pleased to start a new tradition by playing Austin Prep on Thanksgiving Eve every year,” Newhall said. “We’ve found playing on the night before the holiday is appealing to our students and especially our alumni. We played at Fenwick for 25 straight years on Thanksgiving Day until the idea to play the night before came about, giving our players and fans the opportunity to experience a home Thanksgiving game. We’re confident that both St. Mary’s and Austin Prep fans will enjoy and support this new tradition.”
Newhall feels the Spartans and Cougars are a good match. Austin Prep has hired Reading’s Billy Tucker to replace longtime coach Bill Maradei, who stepped down after last season.
“We certainly hope this goes on for a number of years to come,” he said. “They have a beautiful facility. I think their athletic director, Jonathan Pollard, does a great job. The athletic program’s very strong. I think we have a lot of similarities and I think we match up well.”
St. Mary’s and Fenwick will continue to play one another during the regular season. The Crusaders are currently slated to visit the Spartans during Week 4 at Manning Field.