Behind a push from City and Poly alumni who want to renew a tradition dear to their hearts, legislation was introduced Wednesday in the Maryland House of Delegates to allow the City-Poly football game to return to Thanksgiving Day if the two schools request the change.
That, however, appears unlikely to happen, because unless City's and Poly's football programs withdraw from state championship contention — which they could have done at any time — the move to Thanksgiving Day would upset the state playoff system for all of the teams in City's and Poly's playoff regions.
Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for the Baltimore City public schools, said he heard about the bill Friday, but that there has been no serious discussion within the school system of moving the game back to Thanksgiving.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Jill Carter and other members of the Baltimore City delegation, allows for the State Board of Education to "adopt regulations necessary" to play the 122-year old City-Poly game on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 19 years. Until 1992, the second-oldest high-school football rivalry game in the country was part of a Thanksgiving Day doubleheader with the Calvert Hall-Loyola game.
When Baltimore City joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1992, city teams became eligible for state championships. The playoffs conflicted with the Thanksgiving Day game, so the City-Poly game was moved to the first Saturday in November and is now played at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ned Sparks, executive director of the MPSSAA, which governs the state's public school athletics programs, said City and Poly don't need a law to resurrect their Thanksgiving Day tradition.
"When the city joined, it had always been known that our state playoffs are optional, voluntary," Sparks said. "And if the two schools decided they didn't want to participate in the state tournament, they could continue to play the City-Poly game on Thanksgiving. It's always been an option."
However, alumni, who have sponsored many letter-writing campaigns over the years, want the MPSSAA to make concessions that would allow City and Poly to play on Thanksgiving Day and to play for a state championship. That would require major changes in the state playoff structure, because state semifinals are played on the weekend after Thanksgiving and the state finals on the first weekend in December.
Neil R. Bernstein, a 1954 City graduate and board member emeritus of the Baltimore City College Alumni Association Inc., said he would like to see the state finals moved later into December if City or Poly were involved.
"Cleverly, if City and Poly are in the state championship, it would have to be played two weeks after the [Thanksgiving Day] game," Bernstein said. "That's how I'm supporting the bill, with that understanding."
However, if City and Poly played their regular-season game as late as Thanksgiving Day, repercussions would reach all of the teams on their schedules, likely altering playoff fields.
Football uses a point system — not just won-loss record — to determine which teams advance to the playoffs. If a team had Poly on its schedule, that team would receive bonus points if Poly defeated City, as it has the past three years. But if that game were played after the regional playoffs began, Poly's opponent would not get the extra points and might miss out on a playoff berth or a top seed because of it.
It would appear that the only way the Thanksgiving Day tradition could be revived would be to have City and Poly skip the state playoffs.
Adrian Palazzi, a 1970 Poly graduate and a board member and past president of the Baltimore Polytechnic Alumni Association, said he would favor that option.
"I'm very much of a traditionalist," Palazzi said. "I'm a bit old fashioned and to me to raise that trophy after the Poly-City football game is exciting as can be."
City's football coach for the past 36 years, George Petrides, however, said he thinks too many years have passed for the game to be returned to Thanksgiving, an option that wouldn't be popular with the players if it meant skipping the state playoffs.
"I'm a traditionalist and I love having the game on Thanksgiving," Petrides said. "But when we stopped playing the game on Thanksgiving, both schools polled the players and in the beginning, most players wanted to continue playing on Thanksgiving, but as we got into the states, we polled them again and it was always unanimous that they wanted to stay with the state playoff system."
To Bernstein, the decision shouldn't be left up to the players, who weren't even born the last time the game was played on Thanksgiving Day.
"There are some things that adults know better than children," Bernstein said. "I think they would see that the City-Poly game playing in front of 25,000 at M&T Stadium as a double-header to Loyola and Calvert Hall would be much more thrilling and much more a game that they would remember forever than playing Frederick High School or a Cumberland high school. I think it would be a more lasting memory for them and one that they would be more enthusiastic about."