There would, however, be an exception to the general restfulness on the first peace-time observance of the holiday since 1941. “At the Lima stadium at 10 a.m.,” the News wrote, “Central and South high school football teams will clash in the annual colorful rivalry that closes the season for both teams.”
Despite a forecast that warned spectators “to tote a blanket for extra comfort as the early morning air is expected to be on the nippy side,” the game was a sellout. The Tuesday before the game, a South official told the News “many, many more tickets than seats at the stadium had been sold.”
“This means,” the News wrote, “that at least 6,000 seats already are sold with some 1,200 bleacher seats from South high – normally used for basketball – to be placed at the stadium and augmented by bleachers already there – plus seats from Shawnee High School which will be erected, also, it readily can be seen that a crowd of 7,500 is no laughing matter.”
At stake in the game were two trophies, the News reported the day before the game. “’Tigdra,’ the wooden duck which was put up in 1944 as the annual rotating trophy between the schools, will be on hand to be presented to the winner of the classic. In case of a tie Thursday it will remain in South’s hands.” Tigdra was painted red and green (Central’s colors) and blue and gold (South’s colors) with its name coming from the first three letters of each school’s nickname, “Tig” for the South Tigers and “dra” for the Central Dragons. In addition to the duck, a “victory bell” donated by A.W. Jennings of the Senate Restaurant would become the “permanent property of the school winning it this year,” the News noted.
South grabbed the bell and retained possession of Tigdra, winning 13-0 for its third straight victory in the series as “6,000 fans, the largest crowd ever to see a football game here, looked on,” the News wrote. “The temperature dropped into the 20s and the first snow of the year greeted the two teams at 10 a.m.”
With one exception, South and Central would play each other every Thanksgiving Day from 1919 to 1945.
The first game in 1919 was played on Central’s home field, which was near the intersection of Rice and Jameson avenues, basically where West Junior High now stands, while South’s home field was south of Franklin Street and east of St. Johns Avenue on the west side of the high school. “A rain-soaked field with small lakes of water on all sides, and over 1,000 rooters of the two schools muffled in overcoats, sweaters and other paraphernalia, formed the scene, as the two teams lined up for the kickoff,” the News reported November 28, 1919.
With the score tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter, South’s Myrl Rotroff lined up for a drop-kick field goal attempt. “The ball, water-soaked and bespattered with mud came perfectly to him from center Cremean, and three seconds later South hats were flying heavenward and Central rooters were praying in vain for their team to pull the impossible and overcome the three-point lead which Rotroff’s boot had netted South,” the News wrote.
Central got revenge in 1920 with Rotroff, who had transferred to Central, playing a key role as a runner in the Dragons’ 14-6 victory. The Lima Republican-Gazette noted on November 26, 1920, that the battle for “the city scholastic title” was again played on a muddy field at Central.
In fact, many of the Thanksgiving Day games were played in mud – or snow or cold. In his recent story for the Allen County Reporter on county football rivalries, Michael G. Buettner noted that South victories in 1929 and 1930 “were highlighted by the stellar play of South’s Jimmy Vogelgesang” and the less-than-stellar conditions. In 1929, South won on a snow-covered field at Central. “It was reported that brown powder was used to mark the yard lines instead of the customary lime,” Buettner wrote. The following year, he added, “was just plain cold, with the temperature at two degrees below zero.”
After another mud bowl in 1932 — which ended in a scoreless tie — News sports editor Bill Snypp wrote, “As anticipated, a muddy and slippery gridiron prevented South and Central high elevens from showing their true worth in the Thanksgiving game. To find weather conditions on Turkey Day unfit for football has become almost as habitual as the holiday itself with the result that agitation may be started in certain scholastic quarters to play the traditional game next year on Armistice Day.”
And it was – and the weather was no better on November 11, 1933, than it had been later in the month in previous years. “As in the past five or six seasons,” the News wrote November 12, 1933, “the two teams clashed in the titular tussle with adverse conditions prevailing, for the contest was played in mud. Despite this fact, both teams displayed a running attack which amazed even their most ardent backers, nearly 3,000 of whom viewed the proceedings.” Central’s running attack was a little better and the Dragons won 6-0 at South.
In 1934, the game was returned to Thanksgiving morning and, in 1936, was moved to the new Lima Stadium. “Completely modern with permanent stands capable of comfortably seating 6,000 spectators, the new Lima Stadium will be dedicated with appropriate ceremonies Thursday morning prior to the annual South-Central Thanksgiving classic,” the News wrote November 25, 1936.
As for the game, an interception and score by South’s Paul Hudson with three minutes left gave the Tigers a 12-6 victory. “More than 4,000 fans groaned and cheered simultaneously as Hudson lurched into the end zone with the touchdown that decided the contest,” the News wrote.
In 1939, South capped off an undefeated season with a 6-0 win over their city rivals on Thanksgiving Day. Although South had no losses, they had been tied the week before Thanksgiving by Piqua.
The 1945 game marked the last time the two schools would face each other on Thanksgiving Day, though the rivalry would continue through 1954. South and Central were merged to form Lima Senior High School in 1955. After 1945, the big game would continue to be played at Lima Stadium and would be each team’s annual final game but would no longer be played on Thanksgiving.
The once-popular Thanksgiving Day games were a “dying institution,” the News pointed out in a November 18, 1945, story. “Even 10 years ago Thanksgiving Day found as many games being played then as on a regular Friday during the season. Thanksgiving Day 1945 will find less than a half dozen games being played.”
The final South-Central game was played on November 12, 1954, before a record crowd of 11,000 fans in weather that, unlike that at so many other games between the schools, was “a perfect football
night…,” according to the News. “As part of the halftime festivities,” Buettner wrote, “players from the freshman football teams came together to ‘bury the hatchet,’ symbolizing the pending end of the high school rivalry.”
The hatchet, which was made of cardboard, may have been buried at halftime, but the overall series winner had not yet been decided. After 35 games, the schools were tied at 16 wins apiece with three games ending in ties. The 36th game – and the ultimate series lead – was won by Central on that perfect football night in November 1954.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.