Sun Valley: The Turkey Bowl Goes Big Time
With temperatures forecast to stay below freezing, the fifty-first annual Turkey Bowl pitting Sun Valley vs Chichester will be one for the history books. But not simply for the inevitable frost on the pigskin, this year will see the story of this half-century rivalry memorialized for the entire Philadelphia region with live play calling on 94.1WIP Sports Radio. Chosen by the station to be the featured Thanksgiving day game called by radio personalities Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie, Sun Valley and Chichester have been preparing for the spotlight.
Coaches, administrators, former Vanguards, and select players converged in the Sun Valley MIC on Wednesday for a breakfast to celebrate the rivalry and contemplate the attention toward their tradition. It’s a unique position for a high school football player, particularly a senior, to be part of. And Sun Valley quarterback and free safety Anthony Ellis is inspired by the opportunity.
“It’s a lot cooler than a regular game and a little more stressful. But you have to prepare the same and act like it’s a regular game.”
A regular game though, this is not. Patrick Rafferty, athletic director at Sun Valley High School, reminded the players of the impact of this game on their high school careers and their lives:
“For some of you, it’s the last time you’ll ever put on that helmet and pads. It’s a chance to bring out your best.”
Adham Fathy, a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle for Chichester High School, recognizes the impact of this final game for him and many of his teammates.
“This is the last time I’ll be wearing my colors and being on the field with my best friends playing the game of football. Not many get that opportunity. I’d like to hold up that trophy one last time.”
Promoting High School Football
The winner this year not only gets to hold up the traditional Turkey Bowl trophy, but also the WIP trophy that will memorialize this exciting opportunity for Sun Valley and Chichester to experience what it is like to be called like a college or professional game on the airwaves.
John Gentile, WIP senior account executive and Delaware County native, attended the Turkey Bowl breakfast and touted the program that will highlight these local teams. Only in its second year, Gentile is proud to represent WIP’s efforts at celebrating high school football.
“We saw a hole in the community and local high school football that wasn’t being addressed. We believe in local athletics, high school athletics. Last year we started this program and we look to do it for a long time.”
“We carry the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Phillies, Temple Basketball, St. Joes Basketball; but we really don’t do anything with high schools. There are under 20 Thanksgiving games in the state of PA. It’s dwindling.”
WIP will not only carry the game on the air, but will be streaming it live via social media on the 94.1 WIP facebook page.
Gentile’s love of high school sport is personal, as he played football for Penncrest, and later in college on scholarship, before an injury sidelined him and sent him to school at West Chester University. His love and respect for the game has never wavered.
“Things you learn playing high school football guides you for the rest of your life: the hard work, the teamwork, the dedication. You find a way to persevere. It builds better people.”
The Last Big Game
Both Ellis from Sun Valley and Fathy from Chichester appreciated the attention and support they have gotten already from the WIP team. Those WIP personalities from the mid-day daily show have spent time visiting the teams at practice and sharing their own experiences with the sport.
“They wished us luck and talked about how they wished they were in our shoes again,” shared Ellis. “They spoke of the great opportunity we have to put it out on the line with our friends.”
Even the coaches are not immune to the excitement this regional attention has delivered. Greg Bernhardt, second year head coach at Sun Valley, and Ryan Smith, head coach at Chichester for ten years, believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for their young men.
“We got to spend some time with WIP personalities Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie as they learned about our players,” said Coach Berhhardt. “It’s great how they have taken the time to figure out who’s where, wanting bench charts. It’s going to be awesome for our kids. It’s a great experience for them.”
Coach Smith (who also happens to be a Sun Valley graduate) is also looking forward to this historic Thanksgiving game.
“You’re always looking for the next challenge, to have an opportunity to be in the spotlight. Our entire program is in an environment that is real competition. You want to be your best. Put your best hat on and go get it.”
As for predictions for the game?
“It’s going to be cold,” laughs Smith.
Forecast to be the coldest Thanksgiving in more than a century, most of the players have never experienced a game this frigid, adding another layer to this Thanksgiving bowl game. But both coaches dismiss the weather as a defining influence on the outcome.
“It won’t affect morale,” says Bernhardt. “We haven’t played in weather this cold, but we’ll have to battle through it. They’ll get their adrenaline going and be all right.”
“As a coach you have to prepare for bad weather and that’s what this is. We got to talk about what it’s going to look and feel like. But it’s a football game and you’ve practiced and repped everything and it’s your responsibility to go out and do the job regardless of the circumstances.”
Freezing weather and the attention of the entire region are just a few of the stressors on the players and coaches, but there is no denying that the excitement outweighs the pressure. This, after all, will be treated like a professional matchup by the premiere sports radio channel in the region. And with that comes all the coverage that the Eagles and Phillies experience.
“We treat this like it’s an Eagles home game for us,” explains WIP executive Gentile. “We treat this like an NFL broadcast game. It gets the pro treatment.”
“Jon Richie will be doing color commentary of the game. He played high school football, also played in the NFL, played in college. He has a real labor of love for high school football. Joe DeCamara is going to be doing play by play and he’s been looking at rosters, he’s been looking at stats. And Howard Eskin will be doing the sideline reporting. This is something that will live with these kids forever.”
Beyond the hype (this year’s Turkey Bowl has a Presenting Sponsor (Philly Pretzel Factory) and an Official Coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts) as well as a host of other supporting sponsors), it’s the rivalry that continues to draw crowds to this annual game. Penn-Delco Superintendent Dr. George Steinhoff reiterated why this game means so much to so many.
“There are not enough healthy rivalries in high school football. And this is a great, healthy rivalry that is a true community event, a time to relish memories and competition.”
Chichester senior Adham Fathy agrees:
“You prepare as if it’s a regular game with a little more meaning. You’ve gotta keep focused. But it really means a lot to go out there and hopefully have a good game with my best friends on the field.”
And have your game called by the pros.
“It’s something cool down the road that you can look back on,” smiles Anthony Ellis, “and say my game was announced on local sports radio.”
The 51stAnnual Turkey Bowl pitching Sun Valley vs Chichester High School will be played on the Chichester field at 10:30 Thanksgiving day. The game will be covered live at 94.1 FM WIP Sports radio and on WIP’s facebook page.