Of all the Thanksgiving traditions that are practiced nationwide, perhaps none is so sacred and holy as the annual clash of the Webster Groves and Kirkwood communities to celebrate a century-old rivalry with chili competitions, pep rallies, a community run … oh yeah, and football.
The annual Turkey Day Game is just as much a part of Thanksgiving for many families as turkey itself. The day is planned out years in advance: go to the game at high noon, come home to a feast and eat your heart out at 3, crash at 5.
These days though, something’s out of place. Something about the routine just isn’t the same.
Maybe it’s the fact that every year now when we take our seats at the Turkey Day Game and hear the iconic ringing of the Frisco Bell coming from the sideline of the previous year’s winner, we know exactly which side the ringing will continue to come from at the end of the game.
That’s because Webster has now lost to Kirkwood four straight years on Thanksgiving.
Now, you probably see that stat and wonder how I can possibly be so pessimistic. It’s just four years, right? It’s a series over 100 years old; both teams are bound to have droughts! In fact, Webster has fared very well the last couple decades considering the last time they lost even three straight Varsity games was between 1986 and ‘89.
The fact of the matter that can’t be ignored this time though is that Kirkwood has built a wide margin of depth and success between its football program and ours. The Pioneers are the State champions of the highest class in the state, well-established now as the best team in Missouri. They’re led by perhaps the greatest defense in school history.
Webster has been a sub-.500 team two years in a row … in the class below Kirkwood. Its offense has been inconsistent and hesitant to throw the football since losing former quarterback Rob Thompson a couple years ago.
That’s not to say that Webster’s players or coaches are epicly failing in any way. They actually all have done pretty honorably considering the circumstances. The unfortunate reality of those circumstances though is that the program has noticeably shrunk in numbers over recent years and as a result has been given less to work with. Meanwhile, Kirkwood seems to just keep growing. Webster can’t keep up.
Now, some optimists will attest that regardless of the current states of the programs, Webster proved this year that due to the energy and history of the rivalry, the Turkey Day Game will never cease to be competitive and exciting.
That’s the scary thing about this situation, though. Webster played an incredible game this year, and Kirkwood, still on its championship high, barely even showed up to play. And still, the Pioneers held Webster to single-digits and came out on top, 17-6.
The Statesmen actually kept Kirkwood out of the end zone for three entire quarters. Minus a three minute stretch in the second quarter when Kirkwood scored both of its touchdowns, Webster WON THE GAME. We clearly played an all-around better game, but that one lapse of intensity late in the first half highlighted by an interception was all it took for Kirkwood to waltz to victory anyways.
If it’s that easy for the Pioneers, if it takes them just three minutes of dominance to erase 45 minutes of Webster dominance, then what kind of competition do we really have here?
What makes the Webster-Kirkwood rivalry so great is the expectation that every year their game will be a toss-up. This tradition has stood the test of time because it’s perpetually been characterized by State-title-caliber play from both sides.
It’s not in the spirit of Turkey Day when everyone knows who the winner is going to be, and it definitely isn’t in the spirit when Kirkwood students halfheartedly rush the field at the end of a weak but expected victory they can barely brag about.
What needs to change to fix this dilemma isn’t what Webster could’ve done during three minutes to change the result of one game. The Statesmen need to look at the long term potential consequences of not fixing the pattern that is seeming to snowball more and more in Kirkwood’s favor. If Webster doesn’t build its program back to a quantitative size that can compete with the Pioneers’ growth, the Frisco Bell might not reside at WGHS for a very long time.
Whether that means stronger recruiting or more advertising of the program to the youngest audiences in the school district, I honestly don’t know. it’s this kind of thinking though, the prioritization and acknowledgement of middle school and even grade school students as the future, that needs to be given attention.
Without it, the Turkey Day rivalry could devolve to a one-sided rivalry, and we would be the laughingstock. We could someday even be the Cubs to Kirkwood’s Cardinals.
But hey, the Cubs may have just ruined that analogy for good by winning the World Series. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe we could learn a lesson or two from the Chicago Cubs.
If we don’t, who knows? That unique annual dose of Midwestern Thanksgiving culture and history that we all love so much might not ever be truly felt again.
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