The debate will rage on until it’s official, and then it will rage on some more. Time and distance from this decision are the only things that will quell tempers and restore a little normalcy to the area.
But the reality is that, in all likelihood, a Warwick public high school is going to close after this school year ends, whether you want it to or I want it to. The people in charge want it to, and that’s what matters most.
The decision will be about many things, the least of which is sports. Nonetheless, sports will be affected, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s only natural to think about the effect the closing will have on the football games in Warwick that have become as standard as the turkey itself on the fourth Thursday in November.
Two public schools will remain, along with Bishop Hendricken. The logical course of action, then, is that the two publics – likely Toll Gate and Pilgrim – will play each other on Thanksgiving, leaving the Hawks in search of a new opponent and bringing an end to a 42-year Thanksgiving Day match-up between Toll Gate and Hendricken.
It’s probably time.
This isn’t a knock on Toll Gate, by any means, but it’s no secret that the series between the two teams has become incredibly lopsided. Hendricken has won the last 21 games, and barring some sort of semi-apocalyptic event, the Hawks will make it 22 on Thursday.
The Titans haven’t scored a point in the series since 2009. There have been only four one-score games during Hendricken’s winning streak, with the other 18 all being 14-plus point victories. The game’s outcome has become a formality.
The idea of these Thanksgiving “rivalry” games is that there’s is a genuine rivalry between the two teams. Vets and Pilgrim feels like a rivalry, and so does the game between Cranston East and Cranston West. La Salle and East Providence is a rivalry. Toll Gate and Hendricken haven’t been in the same division 1995, and they haven’t been rivals in a long, long time.
Realistically, it’s been a game between two schools that are situated relatively close to each other, with little else binding them. One school is private, one is public. One school has become a powerhouse, a program that will barely – if ever – have to re-build to compete at the state’s highest level. The other school hasn’t won a game in its league since 2010, and simply doesn’t have the program right now to compete with the state’s best. It’s not just cyclical either – 21 years of history have showed us that.
In 1972, when the series started, it probably was a great idea. Toll Gate even won that game. But somewhere between then and now, the landscape of high school football in Rhode Island has changed. What was undoubtedly good for the schools over 40 years ago isn’t good in the 21st century.
And if you’re looking for a genuine positive to this entire ordeal, turning the page on this game will be one. The Thanksgiving game between Hendricken and Toll Gate has continued on because people didn’t want to end a longstanding tradition, even if that tradition is outdated. Unfortunately, if something is broken, it should be fixed, and Hendricken-Toll Gate is most certainly broken.
A school closing in Warwick provides an immediate solution to the problem.
Toll Gate has been the odd-school out in Warwick for a while when it comes to Thanksgiving football. Vets and Pilgrim have had terrific games over the years, and the series has historically been close. No team has won more than three times in a row this century.
Now, if the closure plan proceeds, there will be two public schools. They’ll be natural rivals, not ones formed on necessity. Sure, Hendricken is left hanging a little bit, but it will find another team to play, hopefully one that is closer to its level.
It’s the right scenario for everybody.
Every year Pilgrim and Vets get geared up to play a game that is filled with emotion and intensity. Oftentimes, it’s the most important game of the year.
The Toll Gate-Hendricken game doesn’t have that feel. Many years, it feels like a game that the teams just have to get out of the way, because it’s on the schedule.
That’s all over. For Toll Gate and whichever school is left after this closing, Thanksgiving will always be meaningful. It will be for public bragging rights in the city, a game between two similar schools that have similar season-long goals and similar talent pools.
It will be a game played only with students from Warwick. It will be a rivalry.
A school closing is a huge undertaking, and it’s going to be a long, drawn-out process. Not everybody is going to be happy.
But Thanksgiving football in Warwick, which will be altered for the first time in over four decades, will benefit. In a way, it’ll be sad to see Toll Gate-Hendricken go. I remember playing in the game from 2003-05, and the memories of stepping onto the field bright and early, winning the game and then going home to a family Thanksgiving are ones I’ll always have, and always cherish.
It’ll be sad to see Pilgrim-Vets go, as well, even if a new rivalry will take its place.
Really, that’s the most important thing to remember in this situation – Thanksgiving football in Warwick, in general, isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to be changed, fixed and put back on display as a fair, meaningful product.
So don’t weep for Toll Gate-Hendricken, and only shed a minor tear for Vets-Pilgrim.
One way or another, it’s time. Closing a school opens that door.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor for the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.