When Arlington High School left the Greater Boston League for the Dual County League following the 2007 season, the Somerville Highlanders football team had to find a new Thanksgiving-day opponent, having played the Spy Ponders every year since the late 1970s.
After three blowout wins over Cambridge’s Matignon High School, the Warriors understandably ended their partnership with the Highlanders after the 2010 season.
With the Highlanders’ long-term arrangement with the Cambridge Rindge & Latin Falcons not starting until 2012, for one Thanksgiving—this one—the Highlanders will be without a game.
And some Somerville administrators say the true blame lies with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which they say has not taken an active enough role in the composition and regulation of its individual leagues (there are 61 individual leagues in Massachusetts, based on a count from the MIAA website.)
“There’s been no leadership from the MIAA to help facilitate equity in high school athletics,” said Somerville's mayor, Joseph A. Curtatone.
“You have a set of rules and regulations in the MIAA without any order.”
Curtatone said the MIAA should take a more hands-on approach in managing conference alignment and scheduling, citing Somerville’s schedule—which included four top-25 teams in 10 games—as an example.
“Every child, every young student-athlete in this commonwealth should have the opportunity to compete and succeed,” Curtatone said. “It’s not about winning and losing, but it becomes stressful when you have to play really lopsided schedules that don’t give you the opportunity to succeed.”
Unregulated movement between leagues is unique to Massachusetts, said Somerville superintendent Tony Pierantozzi.
“One of the systems that’s in place in other states is a system where the conferences, divisions and leagues are evaluated on a regular basis about a balance of wins and losses and the competitive nature of the conferences, divisions and leagues,” said Pierantozzi. “So if a high school is particularly powerful in a particular sport, they would move up and play larger competition."
"That’s not done here: Everybody’s left on their own.”
Undefeated Everett’s presence may also play a role in the continuous movement away from the GBL, but Somerville administrators say the solution is a better-regulated system in which each league and conference is composed of competitively similar teams. That would in turn regulate individual schedules and keep teams playing within their own leagues.
“It’s extremely unusual for teams to have go out and find six non-league games a year,” said Somerville athletic director Nicole Viele, adding, “It’s one thing that [the MIAA] is just trying to give each school the freedom to be able to create their own competition. There are people who like it, and there are people who need a little help with it. It just so happens to be that GBL-member schools need a little help with it at this point.”
Because teams are left to form their own schedules and move leagues as they wish, odd-man-out situations like Somerville’s can arise where there aren’t enough teams in a league to allow for the longstanding rivalries typical of Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s extremely disappointing for many people in our community, and rightfully so,” says Viele. “Massachusetts Thanksgiving football is a tradition.”
Viele says that since the 2011 Matignon game would have been in Cambridge, very little in ticket sales have actually been lost.
Still, the Highlanders’ loss might be the Detroit Lions’ gain. The Lions face the Green Bay Packers at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and playing left tackle will be Gosder Cherilus, Somerville class of 2004, Boston College class of 2008, and 17th pick overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Pierantozzi and Viele both say they’ve encouraged people in the community to tune in and cheer on a former Highlander.
“Not many [schools] have an NFL player to begin with, and then to have a first-round pick come [from] your high school is just remarkable,” Pierantozzi says.