Atlantic City vs. Holy Spirit Thanksgiving Day Tradition Nears Century Mark
The annual Atlantic City High School versus Holy Spirit High School Thanksgiving Day football tradition is rare, special and it has lasted for nearly 100 years.
It’s the longest running Thanksgiving Day game in Atlantic County history and second only to Vineland High versus Millville High, which has lasted for 150 years.
In case you were wondering, this close neighboring game in Cumberland County, New Jersey began in 1871. The President of The United States was Ulysses S. Grant. That’s mind boggling to process.
This Thursday, November 25, 2021, Atlantic City versus Holy Spirit will take place for the 93rd time. Calvin Coolidge was the President of The United States in 1926 when this storied rivalry began.
You can catch all of the live Thanksgiving Day action right here on WPG Talk Radio 95.5, beginning at 8:00 a.m., with our annual interview that will feature: Frank Campo, Chris Ford, Jr., AJ Russo and Steve Norman.
This will be followed by a 9:00 a.m. hour pre-game show, hosted by me and ESPN 97.3’s Mike Gill. Kick-off time is 10:00 a.m.
While you’re preparing your Thanksgiving feast - if you can’t make it to Atlantic City High School’s Dr. Jack Eisenstein Stadium, (at John Boyd Athletic Complex) a great way to take in all of the action is by listening on: 95.5 FM, 1450 AM, or, by downloading the WPG Talk Radio smartphone app. Here is your easy download link directly below. Just click and play.
There are so many wonderful over-lapping loyalties between these two great high schools.
A case in point Is the legendary Lou Paludi. He is a graduate of Atlantic City high school and then he took Holy Spirit high school to great heights as a state championship head coach.
I am also a typical example of the Atlantic City versus Holy Spirit crossover reality.
I’m a graduate of Atlantic City high school, who also served for four years as a volunteer assistant coach under the legendary David Pfeifer for the Holy Spirit high school track, indoor track and cross-country teams.
My wife Margie and I are also the proud parents of two wonderful daughters (Kristin 2001 and Lauren 2004), who are graduates of Holy Spirit high school.
There are so many area couples who are split graduates of Atlantic City and Holy Spirit.
The annual event features a coming together and a community happening. Many come home for the only time during the year and attend in person or listen to the game.
Where: Atlantic City High School, Dr. Jack Eisenstein Stadium, located within John Boyd Athletic Complex.
When: Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 25, 2021.
Kick-off time: 10:00 a.m.
Advanced weather forecast at kick-off: Mostly Sunny. High 56 degrees. Winds: West at 10 MPH, with only a 3% chance of rain. A beautiful day for a great high school football game.
Listen live: 95.5 FM, 1450 AM, 97.3 FM HD3, and on the WPG Talk Radio smartphone app.
Here is a look at where this Thursday morning’s game will be played - Atlantic City’s Dr. Jack Eisenstein Stadium:
The series reverts back and forth each year. Here is where next year’s game will be played … Holy Spirit High School’s Ed Byrnes Stadium:
The history of this annual game is extraordinary.
The career totals for this annual rivalry game are:
Atlantic City = 50 wins
Holy Spirit = 38 wins
4 ties (1931, 7-7); (1932, 0-0); (1933, 0-0); 1944, 0-0);
The first game was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1926, which Atlantic City won over Holy Spirit by a score of 28-18.
Holy Spirit defeated the Atlantic City Trade School in 1925, a 59-0 shutout. That is unrelated to this Thanksgiving series and didn’t involve Atlantic City High School.
Atlantic City went on to dominate this series for the early decades. In fact, Atlantic City shutout Holy Spirit from 1936 through 1948.
Holy Spirit has closed the gap in more recent years.
There was no game played in: 1929, 1942, 1943.
The game has taken place without exception from 1944 to the present; incredibly, even through the recent COVID-19 global pandemic, and, despite Atlantic City being hit very hard last season by COVID-19.
The game has taken place in very interesting venues:
In the 1960’s through 1973, the game was held indoors in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall … then called Atlantic City Convention Hall.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, it was always an incredible experience.
The opportunity to view the event and for players to play and coach indoors, in such an amazing venue gave the game such a top flight feel to it. It had all the trappings of a major collegiate atmosphere.
In these special years, the game featured an official program guide. This is an amazing look back at the November 27, 1968 Program book. It cost $ .25 cents.
Photo Credit - Bobby Schilling - Facebook
The annual collegiate “Boardwalk Bowl” football game was held here for a number of years. It, too was a great annual tradition.
This afforded the opportunity to keep the field in place to stage the annual Atlantic City versus Holy Spirit Thanksgiving Day game.
It was also used for the annual Atlantic County Junior Football League “Sand Bowl” Game. What a special occasion this was for youth football in Atlantic County.
There was one more special tradition over the years at Boardwalk Hall … the annual Atlantic City Police Department versus Atlantic City Professional Firefighters … with both teams in full uniforms.
A fun fact. Boardwalk Hall was slightly too small for the football field, so about two yards was cut from each end zone. The playing field was the regulation 100 yards in length, along with the proper width.
Over nearly a century, this game has produced everything. From a start-up Holy Spirit high school, initially located on Massachusetts Avenue, Atlantic City.
The two schools shared a stadium. The rivalry cut across every imaginable cultural divide. At different times in the rivalry’s history, it was urban versus suburban … public versus private. This series has had it all.
Historic Bader Field in Atlantic City was also home to this game for many years. Bader Field is where the term airport was created. More about this in a photo gallery that immediately follows this article.
Bader Field was retired as Atlantic City’s home Stadium in 1994.
There has been much pressure brought to bear over the past decade or more regarding Thanksgiving Day games continuing in New Jersey.
It is a great tradition, unique to our region of the country. Most of America has no idea how special it is to bring so many people together on a day that is truly meant for family and close friends to pay thanks for all of our blessings.
Fortunately, both Atlantic City and Holy Spirit are staunch in their unwavering defense of keeping the Thanksgiving Day tradition alive and well.
Even during years when each school had a critical state playoff game just 2 days after the Thanksgiving Day game; they have fought hard to keep the Thanksgiving Day tradition going.
We reached out to two individuals for this article; one each from Atlantic City and Holy Spirit. Combined, they have more than 90 years experience with this game combined; as an Athletic Director, Head Coach and Player.
I asked each of them to share their thoughts about this game.
NARRATIVE FROM FRANK CAMPO - ATLANTIC CITY HIGH SCHOOL - 43 YEARS IN THE DISTRICT - 26 YEARS AS DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS.
“There are so many memories of the annual Thanksgiving Day Game that I shared with so many people it not difficult to recollect my favorite stories. This is my trip down memory lane as an assistant football coach and later as the school’s athletic director.
I was an assistant coach along with Charlie Wagner. George King was the head coach and we played at Bader Field. One year Charlie and I decided we needed to build on the team’s spirit. We went to a turkey farm and bought a turkey. We would bring it out before practice and kept it in the locker room at Bader Field. Someone called the SPCA and we had to get rid of the turkey. We thought we had an easy solution-take it back to the turkey farm. However, the owner could not take it back since he said it could jeopardize the health of his entire flock. We drove around for hours trying to figure out what do with our pet. We were thinking of releasing it in the woods. Then, we saw a sign on a restaurant on the White Horse Pike that read, “fresh turkey.” Regretfully, the story ends here!
As the Supervisor of Athletes, I will never forget when the Marczyk’s , Lenhart’s, and Mike Patroni covered my front porch with blue and gold crepe paper on Thanksgiving Eve. They were all players for Holy Spirit at the time. Atlantic City won the game so I went to my office to retrieve all these samples of Right Guard deodorant that were sent to me to distribute to our players and students. I put samples in each of their mailboxes with a note that read, “for the Spartans since they stink.”
The 1989 snow storm that hit our area just before Thanksgiving vividly sticks out in my mind. I sat in McGettigan’s Saloon whichwas across the street from Bader Field telling myself, I can’t cancel this game. About 9 p.m. I walked onto the field and was in snow drifts above my knees. Realizing what my wife, Karin, had said hours before, “your crazy.” I called Ed Byrnes and postponed the game. Coach Weiss and I had the monumental task of getting the field ready for Saturday even though it was owned by the City. But, that is another story.
The Thanksgiving Day game was always our most attended football game. It called for extra planning, staffing, and organizing. When the new high school was built, it had parking for about 300 cars (it’s been redesigned since then). We originally had to use all our field space to accommodate at least 1,000 cars. It worked well until we had heavy rain and damaged our practice and playing fields.
One year I got there extra early to set-up for the Turkey Day Game and looked out at the field. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw mounds of goose droppings all over the field. It was like the geese had a convention to see which pile could be the highest. Fortunately, the field was made playable with the support of my staff.” - FRANK CAMPO.
ATLANTIC CITY MAYOR MARTY SMALL - ALSO A GRADUATE & HALL OF FAME ATHLETE FROM ATLANTIC CITY HIGH SCHOOL.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small minced no words when addressing the Atlantic City versus Holy Spirit annual Thanksgiving Day football game:
“It’s a game that’s circled on everyone’s Calender near and far, it’s serves as the unofficial reunion for all of Atlantic City High Schools Graduating classes.
We don’t like them and they don’t like us and it’s a battle no matter what the records are.
It also served as a rival because some Atlantic City Dolphins went to Holy Spirit and we wanted to show them the grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the Holy Spirit side.
For me, I couldn’t wait because the NJSIAA rules when I was in high school, the next day (Black Friday) was the first day of official basketball practice and if Holy Spirit won on Thanksgiving in football. Their asses were in trouble both basketball games.” - MARTY SMALL.
NARRATIVE FROM AJ RUSSO - HEAD COACH - HOLY SPIRIT HIGH SCHOOL - FIRST TEAM ALL PRESS PLAYER AT HOLY SPIRIT HIGH SCHOOL.
“The Holy Spirit - Atlantic City Thanksgiving Day Football rivalry is one of the greatest athletic traditions in our area. As a former player and now a coach this day is always special. It starts with the morning of game day.
The 10 am kickoff means you arrive at school at 7:00 am on a usually crisp, cool and beautiful fall day for pregame taping and meetings.
As the players and coaches start to arrive you can feel the excitement in the air. You know that a year’s worth of bragging rights are on the line.
The outcome of this game will not only be the topic of discussion at dinner that night, but especially for seniors, it will also leave a mark on your career for the rest of your life. You will always remember how you performed and what the score was of this game.
You will discuss it every Thanksgiving from here on out with your teammates and players and friends from ACHS.
When you take the field for warmups and see your family, friends and alumni filling the stands, there is a warm feeling inside that is hard to describe. You know you will be playing on a stage that so many other players before you have done; while understanding that most of them will be in stands watching you, wishing they were out there one more time again so that they can have that same feeling you are having now.
As the game starts and the minutes tick off the clock, the realization kicks in that this is the last time you will ever do this. So every play, every block, every tackle, every call takes on a new meaning. You know you have always given your all for the whole season but now there is a greater effort on your part to succeed.
In your mind you want to ensure that you did everything you could to win in this game because they will be the last memories you have of playing or coaching high school football.” - AJ RUSSO.
As you can readily see, this annual tradition is very special and it means a lot to our community.
The tradition continues this Thursday in Atlantic City and on WPG Talk Radio 95.5
High School Football Venues in South Jersey
Atlantic City's Firsts Throughout History