A special Thanksgiving tradition, morning or night

Sterling coach Clint Wiley, left, hopes the traditional clash will take some of the sting out of losing a playoff game last week. Retired Collingswood coach Bob Barikian, right, began a Wednesday-night tradition in 1988 that was short-lived. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Sterling coach Clint Wiley, left, hopes the traditional clash will take some of the sting out of losing a playoff game last week. Retired Collingswood coach Bob Barikian, right, began a Wednesday-night tradition in 1988 that was short-lived. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: November 24, 2013

Bob Barikian still remembers walking to midfield before the Thanksgiving Eve game between Collingswood and Sterling in 1999.

Barikian was both the coach of visiting Collingswood and the father of Sterling's senior captain.

"We got to midfield, and he went one way and I went the other," Barikian said of his son Michael.

That scene underscored the uniqueness of the annual rivalry between Collingswood and Sterling.

The teams will meet for the 49th time Wednesday night at Sterling. Collingswood holds a 24-23-1 edge in the tightest series among traditional Thanksgiving rivals in South Jersey.

One of the things that is special about Collingswood-Sterling is that both schools hold their annual "Senior Day" - or "Senior Night," if the game is hosted by the Silver Knights that year - before the game, honoring players, cheerleaders, and band members from both sides.

The festivities feature an annual pregame banquet for athletes, students, and adults from both schools and communities. The event is a breakfast when Collingswood hosts the game on Thanksgiving, and a dinner when Sterling hosts the game on Thanksgiving Eve.

"It makes it a holiday," said Barikian, the retired Collingswood coach who with Sterling coach Jim Gallagher created the dual senior-day tradition in the mid-1980s.

"It brings both schools and both communities together."

The tradition will continue Wednesday night when Sterling's Advanced Foods class prepares a meal in the cafeteria for around 150 players, cheerleaders, and band members from both schools as well as their parents along with school board members and others.

"It's pretty special," Sterling athletic director Matt Sheehan said. "I know when we've hosted it, I've been caught up in doing a lot of things, but when they had a breakfast at Collingswood, I was able to sit and talk and see some of their older boosters and supporters of the program and you could see the tradition and the history. It makes you appreciate it."

Collingswood coach Jack McConnell, who played for the Panthers from 1985-88, said the annual senior event is special to both schools and communities.

"One of the things I love about football is that it brings communities together," McConnell said.

The other thing that was noteworthy about that game in 1999 was that it was the first time Sterling had hosted Collingswood on a Wednesday night.

Sterling had new lights for its field and wanted to take advantage by starting a new tradition within the old rivalry.

Coincidentally, Collingswood tried the same thing in 1988, the first year of lights at the Panthers' old stadium. But after one year of football on Thanksgiving Eve, Collingswood went back to hosting the game on the morning of the holiday in 1990.

"The school board nixed that," Barikian said of the Wednesday night game. "They said some of the recent graduates weren't able to get back from college in time to see the game."

For Sterling, the Thanksgiving Eve game has become the new tradition - and it has spread to other schools, as well.

This year, there will be six Thanksgiving rivalry games on Wednesday night, including Cherry Hill East at Cherry Hill West, Rancocas Valley at Burlington Township, Penns Grove at Pennsville, Pennsauken at Bishop Eustace, and Glassboro at Deptford.

"What's nice is that the rivalry is different every year," Sheehan said. "The night game at our place and the traditional Thanksgiving morning game at their place. It makes it unique."

The rivalry between the Colonial Conference teams that represent nearby towns along the White Horse Pike in Camden County began in 1965.

It has been an even series, with stretches of dominance by both schools. Collingswood won six of seven from 1966-72 and six in a row from 1993-98. Sterling won six in a row from 1973-78 and from 1982-87.

This year's game has added meaning because both teams enter with 7-2 records.

"The good thing is that we get to play a game after that loss to Woodstown" in the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs, Sterling coach Clint Wiley said. "I know how much our kids want to finish with a win, especially our seniors."

Sterling senior lineman Matt Dockery said the Silver Knights are determined to finish with a flourish.

"This is my last time playing with my brothers," Dockery said. "We want to show what Sterling football is all about."

Collingswood senior fullback/linebacker John Deaner said the Panthers are taking the same approach.

"It's our last game," Deaner said. "We want to make our last game something special."

Sterling vs. Collingswood

The year-by-year results of the Sterling vs. Collingswood rivalry in football. Collingswood leads the series, 24-23-1.

Year   Winner   Score   

1965   Sterling   26-20   

1966   Collingswood   34-6   

1967   Collingswood   6-0   

1968   Collingswood   20-7   

1969   Collingswood   14-6   

1970   Sterling   28-14   

1971   Collingswood   12-6   

1972   Collingswood   6-2   

1973   Sterling   34-8   

1974   Sterling   42-0   

1975   Sterling   20-0   

1976   Sterling   36-0   

1977   Sterling   46-0   

1978   Sterling   24-0   

1979   Collingswood   48-6   

1980   Collingswood   34-6   

1981   (Tie)   12-12   

1982   Sterling   28-6   

1983   Sterling   3-0   

1984   Sterling   27-0   

1985   Sterling   29-0   

1986   Sterling   6-0   

1987   Sterling   12-6   

1988   Collingswood   22-20   

1989   Collingswood   13-0   

1990   Sterling   7-0   

1991   Collingswood   15-7   

1992   Sterling   34-0   

1993   Collingswood   15-12   

1994   Collingswood   31-0   

1995   Collingswood   21-0   

1996   Collingswood   22-0   

1997   Collingswood   34-6   

1998   Collingswood   13-12   

1999   Sterling   33-8   

2000   Collingswood   19-0   

2001   Sterling   51-14   

2002   Sterling   33-0   

2003   Sterling   33-7   

2004   Collingswood   18-6   

2005   Collingswood   7-6   

2006   Collingswood   19-6   

2007   Sterling   27-20   

2008   Collingswood   28-13   

2009   Collingswood   49-21   

2010   Collingswood   39-0   

2011   Sterling   14-6   

2012   Sterling   28-0   

- Phil Anastasia


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