A century and more ago there were two dates that often ended the football season. Armistice Day (Now called Veterans Day) on November 11. It celebrated the end of “The Great War” or the “War to End All Wars”. World War I of course didn’t end war as just less than 20 years later Japan started World War II with their invasion of China. Be that as it was, it was a day to celebrate and what better way to hold the celebration than on a national holiday? There were annual matchups between teams such as Green Bay East against Green Bay West, a yearly matchup that would draw 7,000-10,000 fans. But there was another holiday that drew state-wide attention. The unofficial state title games that were organized were often played on Thanksgiving Day.
If Thanksgiving Day didn’t agree with most finalists then a day close to that day was set up for the title match. Weather, transportation to the game and the desire for a team not to be away from family and friends (those who couldn’t attend the game) were considerations to move the day back to the Friday or Saturday after Turkey Day.
One of those holiday games was the state title matchup between undefeated La Crosse against a tiny yet powerful team from Edgerton. The game was to be played in La Crosse and a special train was set up to take the team, the school band and over 100 fans the 300 miles to the game. Over 500 people showed up at the train station to send the team off. They would pass the night in Sparta and then the next morning move on to La Crosse. For $0.75, a person could get a Thanksgiving dinner on the train in route to the battle or get one following the game on the return trip. To the local newspaper reporter, it seemed that the entire town showed up to cheer the victors when they returned, having defeated La Crosse 7-0.
Such events were common around the state even if the Thanksgiving Day game wasn’t for the state title. It was a day of celebration between rival schools. Not until about 1923, when the WIAA started forcing teams to set regular schedules and the association eliminated the season ending mythical state championship game did Thanksgiving Day games begin to lose their appeal. There was no need to extend the season without a title game. Still, in other states, most notably Massachusetts, they still hold many Thanksgiving Day football games.
Dave Poltrock, an assistant football and softball coach at Milwaukee Ronald Regan High School Has sent me a number of stories about his hometown 1916 state champion Edgerton school and another feature will be forthcoming about them…an expanded story over and beyond what is in my book so stay tuned for that.