MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

I’m so old I remember when they only started talking about moving the Allegany-Fort Hill football game from Thanksgiving day to the week following the ninth regular-season game.

Something about these new-fangled state football playoffs they were talking about starting … and I say new-fangled with great sarcasm since the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) had long had state playoffs for every sport other than football …

It was roughly 1971 when this talk of state football playoffs began to surface in Suter Kegg’s column, which, of course, would mean the end of the annual Turkey Day Game, which was played on Thanksgiving for every year but one (snow in 1938) since the fall of 1936.

Well … the mere notion of them “even trying to do that” was akin to trying to kidnap the Lindbergh baby, which, by the way, had successfully been accomplished just 40 short years prior.

Naturally, Fort Hill head football coach Charlie Lattimer was all for it, which might sound surprising, given Coach Lattimer’s history with the Turkey Day Game as a player and as a coach, but he was all for it. While he loved all of the pageantry and the traditions of playing Allegany on Thanksgiving, he stated publicly that he believed taking part in the state football playoffs would be even more beneficial state prestige-wise for Fort Hill and for Allegany.

Fifteen state titles later for the Cumberland public high schools, it seems safe to say Coach Lattimer had a pretty accurate visionary eye. Not so surprisingly to anyone who knew him, he also publicly advocated in the late 1970s for Allegany and Fort Hill to consolidate to form one Cumberland High School.

That was the late 1970s when a heckuva lot more people lived here and worked here than they do now. Think about that.

It was when all three Cumberland high schools had much higher enrollments than they do now. In fact, Bishop Walsh, then considered to be “the small school” had an enrollment in the top four grades (it was strictly a high school then) that would make it one of the two largest high schools in Allegany County today. Think about that.

But, I digress …

To make a long story short, they did it. The MPSSAA began its state football playoffs and let it be known if a certain county did not want to participate (which county would that have been?), no harm, no foul; which, of course, a lot of fans here took as a dare and, in turn, urged officials at Allegany County Public Schools to accept them on the dare.

Thankfully, cooler and wiser heads prevailed (it was before elected school boards), and Allegany, Fort Hill, Beall, Bruce and Valley, the public schools in Allegany County that fielded football teams, participated in the state playoffs in that very first season, with Beall reaching the Class B (now 2A) playoffs, Fort Hill the Class A (now 3A) playoffs, and Valley winning the Class C (now 1A) state championship.

In the meantime, the world as we knew it was doomed to end. No game on Thanksgiving? Please. You ever hear of the Detroit Lions and a television?

Beginning in 1974, the Homecoming games – Alco-Fort Hill, BW-Beall and Bruce-Valley, which wasn’t played on Thanksgiving to begin with (they were the smart ones) – were played in the 10th week of the regular season. And behold … the games were better-played games than they were on Thanksgiving when all teams involved had had 20 days off between week 9 and week 10.

The games were crisp; they were exciting, and they had state-playoffs ramifications, which made them even more tense and exciting and life-and-death (which, apparently, we like in our high school sports).

There were 38 Turkey Day Games played between Allegany and Fort Hill on Thanksgiving day, and we were led to believe that extended all the way back to “On The Eighth Day” when God created the world.

There have been 46 Homecoming Games played since 1974 and several more on other days, including 10 in the playoffs, to bring the total number of Allegany-Fort Hill football games to 98.

How did we ever make it this far when the world was bound to end when the Turkey Day Game did?

No. 99 is Saturday.

We’ll be okay.

Probably.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT