Turkey Day game

The Turkey Day Game, the annual high-school football match-up between Kirkwood and Webster Groves, is the longest-running football rivalry west of the Mississippi.  These days it is both an intense and a friendly competition, but it was not always so.

Breakdown : a season of gang warfare, high school football, and the coach who policed the streets
Bob Halloran.
Guilford, Conn. : Lyons Press, c2010.
Parents like me who stand around soccer fields in affluent communities wondering if little Tommy is under too much stress because he has so many after-school activities have no idea what the kids in Chelsea, Massachusetts, have had to deal with. Hypothetical Tommy has soccer, piano, and the Boy Scouts, but the real-life Danny Cortez had to step over a dead body to get into his home. Mario Hernandez crawled on the floor of his apartment for a week in fear of gunshots coming through the window. This kid's dad is in jail. That kid's mom is on drugs. That's Chelsea. I don't know why the kids opened up so much to me about their personal lives, but they did. These troubled teens were intelligent, insightful, and honest. They were good kids in a bad situation. And their-Stories are often shocking and tragic, yet surprisingly hopeful. As it turns out, their futures are even more hopeful than their coach's. Book jacket.
Our boys : a perfect season on the plains with the Smith Center Redmen
Joe Drape.
New York : Henry Holt, 2009.
Drape, a Kansas City native and an award-winning sportswriter for "The New York Times," pens an inspiring portrait of the extraordinary high-school football team and coach whose quest for perfection sustains its hometown in America's heartland.

Kirkwood has had a football team since 1898 and Webster Groves organized one a few years later.  The presence of two neighboring teams made football a popular and very competitive sport in the area. This rivalry, in turn, resulted in the establishment of the Turkey Day Game tradition in 1907.

But the competition became so bitter by the late 1930's that the future of the game was in doubt.  Prior to the 1938 game, police had to disperse a crowd of several hundred students and alumni from both schools who threatened to fight each other. They brandished clubs and said the riot would be a prelude to the Turkey Day game.

Turkey Day prizes

One of the hallowed traditions of Turkey Day are the prizes, awarded to both the winner and loser.  The winner receives the Frisco Bell, a train bell donated by Frisco Railroad in 1952.  It is rung at the start and end of the game, and when its possessor (the team that won last year) scores a touchdown. 

The consolation prize is the Little Brown Jug, which is inscribed with the final score. It remains with the losing team until it wins another Turkey Day game.

Battle for the Bell

As school officials worried about the potential violence, a Kirkwood student found a solution.  Bud Leonard, who had formerly attended Webster High, came up with the idea of the Webster-Kirkwood Friendship Dance, held to this day. This signaled a change in tone-- toward a more friendly competition. 

Today, families from one community even invite friends and family who play on the other team over for Thanksgiving dinner after the game! The Turkey Day Game is one of the few remaining high school games played on Thanksgiving.  With a balance of rivalry and good will, this century-old tradition seems likely to continue long into the future.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff