Thanksgiving Day once choice for local football

By Wesley Harris

Many of you likely viewed at least some NFL football during your Thanksgiving Day festivities. Tonight, some of you will venture to Denham Springs to watch the Bearcats vie for another win in their quest to return to the Superdome. And Saturday, the Bulldogs will play their final game of the season in Joe Aillet Stadium while the Grambling Tigers battle the Southern Jaguars in the annual Bayou Classic.

But had you been around 70 to 100 years ago, Thanksgiving Day would have been when you journeyed to a high school or college stadium to watch your favorite team.

In the 1920s and for decades thereafter, Ruston High and Tech and other local high schools and colleges played games on Thanksgiving afternoon. For years, the Bearcats and the Minden Greenbacks (now the Crimson Tide) played an annual Thanksgiving game. The rivalry between Homer and Haynesville, dating back to 1907, included an annual Thanksgiving Day game alternating between the two towns.

Tech often played Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-L) or Centenary on Thanksgiving. Many colleges in America played on the holiday, usually with the same two teams matched up year after year. In 1938, over 140 college teams took the field in Turkey
Day contests, most playing the same rival from the previous year.

In a story documenting an historic house in Homer, Sarah McClung Little described her family’s Thanksgiving traditions: “Everyone arrived early for the Thanksgiving feast to eat before hurrying off to the annual Homer-Haynesville football game. If the game was played in Homer, the family just walked across the street to the high school stadium. If it was to be played in Haynesville, they ate faster before driving the 13 miles north.”

Pam Suggs, director of the Claiborne Parish Library, remembers the annual Homer-Haynesville game on Thanksgiving as a “big deal.”

“Everyone got dressed up in their hats and gloves and suits and ties for the afternoon game,” Suggs said. “Sometimes the Thanksgiving game was also Homecoming and that was an even bigger deal.”

The annual Ruston-Minden game attracted huge crowds no matter which town hosted. By 1929, the two schools had played on Thanksgiving for several consecutive years to large crowds.

The Thanksgiving match was as much a social event as an athletic contest. In 1931, Ruston’s mayor and fire chief loaded up Bearcat cheerleaders and drove to Minden to offer an official invitation to the game. The holiday atmosphere injected a sense of
camaraderie and fellowship missing in most rivalries today.

Thanksgiving Day games were sometimes coupled with parades and crowning of Homecoming queens. Concession workers experienced slow sales with everyone still stuffed with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings.

The holiday game tradition faded over time. Now we eat, visit a bit with family, settle in front of the TV and fall asleep before the pro game is over. And maybe along the way, we give thanks and count our blessings.