NORWICH - The annual New London High School-Norwich Free Academy football game is the nation’s longest running rivalry in high school football. But, until Monday morning, there was some question as to whether this season’s scheduled game would even be played.
This rivalry, dating back to 1875, was scheduled to be renewed this Wednesday night. That is until Norwich and New London police voiced concern.
The 158th meeting between the Whalers and the Wildcats Was scheduled to kick off at NFA Wednesday at 6:30 PM. But, police recommended to NFA that they change the kickoff time to early afternoon
“There’s been some activity in the area that caused concern for the police departments in both Norwich and New London,” said Mike O’Farrell, spokesperson for NFA.
While neither school nor the respective police departments would confirm what the activity is, FOX61 has learned trouble between gangs in Norwich and New London needed to be flagged “to raise it to our attention to say, ‘hey, the safest time would really be to do this earlier in the afternoon,’” said O’Farrell. “And, that’s where we are.”
And many Norwich residents agree with the 1:30 PM kickoff time.
“As long as it’s more safe for the kids, I think that’s a more preferable option so nobody gets hurt,” said Kyle Monty of Norwich.
NFA sophomore Lily O’Neil says she was going to the game no matter what.
“I feel safe as long as there is security. I do feel safe here,” she said.
Another NFA student doesn’t know why they just don’t play the game when they traditionally have: Thanksgiving morning.
“Everybody likes to go home at Thanksgiving knowing that their team just took a win and stuff like that and you know feast with their family and stuff,” said Luke Nicolas, an NFA senior.
But, Norwich police said that was not an option because they are short-staffed on Thanksgiving morning this year. So, kick off will be at 1:30 PM Wednesday.
A win for NFA would clinch a CIAC Class LL playoff spot for the Wildcats, according to O’Farrell.
New London Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Ritchie says it was the Eastern Connecticut Conference and Norwich Free Academy that decided to play the game Wednesday afternoon rather than Thanksgiving morning.
She released hey prepared statement late Monday afternoon, that read as follows:
“Dear New London School Community,
Despite New London’s numerous efforts to schedule a mutually agreeable time for the traditional, Thanksgiving Day Football game between New London and NFA, NFA and the ECC have made a decision to move the game to a 1:30 p.m. start time on November 27, 2019, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. While we agree a daytime game is important for the safety of our students, we are deeply saddened that due to the move to Wednesday afternoon, many of our families, students and community will not be able to participate. For those who can attend, we know you will bring the positive, supportive, enthusiasm that embodies our community to the sidelines on Wednesday. We assure you that we will seek to gain your input to establish a day and time for next year’s traditional, Thanksgiving game that is supportive of our students, staff, families and the football community at large.
Thank you for your understanding and your continued support of our students.”
Cynthia E. Ritchie
Superintendent of New London Schools