Holiday football tradition leads to playoff dispute in Pa.

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Usually, the holiday season brings disparate communities together and helps reinforce a sentiment of cooperation and unity. Evidently two high schools in the Philadelphia area missed that memo, with their respective football programs engaging in an edgy disagreement over when to play a district championship game.

Phoenixville football team
Phoenixville football team

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Phoenixville (Pa.) High and Pottsgrove (Pa.) High can't come to an agreement on when to face each other in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 1 Class AAA championship game. The contest must be competed over the forthcoming holiday break to set up the remainder of the Pennsylvania state playoffs, but precisely when it will be played remains in question.

The primary dispute has to do with how much time Phoenixville should be allowed to have to recover from an annual holiday football game, which it will play on Thanksgiving Eve against Spring-Ford (Pa.) High. With a Wednesday game scheduled, the Purple Phantoms want at least two full days to rest and recover before playing such an important elimination game.

That flies in the face of Pottsgrove's wishes, with the school -- which no longer takes part in a holiday contest, in part because of potential scheduling snafus like this one -- desperate to play Phoenixville on Friday night in the traditional high school football time slot.

"In this area, Thanksgiving games are big," Pottsgrove football coach Rick Pennypacker told the Inquirer. "But we gave that up. We gave it up to be a playoff team."

There's past precedent of a team having to play on short rest, too. In both 2007 and 2009, Pottsgrove won traditional Thanksgiving Day contests then fell in the playoffs just two days later.

Because Phoenixville isn't allowed to simply abdicate its Wednesday game against Spring-Ford, the dispute was headed for a makeshift tribunal on Monday to determine when the teams would have to play, and hopefully avoid the disagreement between the programs from spiraling into an even more unpleasant holiday-season dispute.

"There's no written rule on it," PIAA District I executive secretary Bob Ruoff told the Inquirer. "But when this has come up in the past we've usually moved the game to Saturday. You try to give the team that has to play in the middle of the week an extra day of rest."

And, with the threat of the kind of playoff fatigue that struck past Pottsgrove squads in mind, Phoenixville coach Bill Furlong insists that he won't play his starters for the entire contest against Spring-Ford, a factor which might raise questions about the school's commitment to traditional Thanksgiving football.

Yet that approach clearly makes the most competitive sense for Phoenixville, which finds itself trapped between traditional and the modern entrapment of hectic prep sports scheduling.

"We're going to do our best, but we don't want our starters to go 48 minutes with us playing two or three days later," Purple Phantoms coach Bill Furlong said. "We'll probably mix our varsity and JV guys. It won't be a wholesale thing."

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