HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL—A THANKSGIVING DAY TRADITION
PART 2 RECOLLECTIONS OF PLAYERS
 
1941 Turkey Day Game ProgramMy Recollection of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Jack Warnick, Stadium ‘49
Lots of memories of Stadium and football.
Brother Al and I went every year since we were in grade school to the Turkey Day game at Stadium. It was a big event and the best football available; there was no TV. High schools had the day to themselves. College games were always on Saturday and if there was a pro game, it wasn't available or nobody was paying attention. I can't vouch for the crowd size, but I would imagine it to be greater than 10,000.
 
In those years, due to availability, high school sports had much, much greater support from both the students and the community. At that time, we played in the City League with Bellarmine and Lincoln. Bellarmine was a small all-boy’s school. It featured Otto and Bobby Fink (then a freshman) as running backs and had Bill Payne at tackle. I believe Bill went on to play at Santa Clara. We opened the season with a King's-X game against Lincoln and ended with the Thanksgiving Day game. We were two of the six teams in the Cross State League--the others were Bremerton, Seattle Prep, Everett and Bellingham.
 
Lincoln featured Art Viafore at quarterback, Ed Munt as running back, Glen Huffman as linebacker/offensive tackle and Ole Magnuson. Our co-captains were Bobby Hoskins and Greg Friberg. They both went to WSC and started for three years. Bob was our quarterback and Greg the center and linebacker. In high school there were limited substitution rules that changed in college. Bob was a defensive halfback and Greg was a middle linebacker. 
 
We played both a single wing and T formation offense. Mostly T with a man in motion on occasion. Our defense varied from a 5-3-2-1 to a 6-2-2-1. The teams we played used both offenses, and once we played against a double wing. I can't remember how/what we did against Bremerton with Don Heinrich, but I know we lost on Thanksgiving to Lincoln and Art Viafore, 6-0. The passing game and defenses have evolved substantially since my day.
 
John Heinrick's last year at Stadium was 1946. I played sophomore ball with V.G. Lowman as my coach. Bob Levinson started as head coach in 1947, my first year on the team. I don't recall any extra enthusiasm for the game by Levinson or his assistant coaches, Marv Scott and Jack Beer, but I think we were pretty pumped up by the game, student body enthusiasm and teammates.
 
I can't remember the field conditions for those particular games. I do recall dry and pebbly conditions as well as wet and muddy days in the bowl, both in practice and in games. Climbing the hill from the bowl to the locker room after practice was worse. The grass fields we played on in our away games were a real treat. 
 
I don't recall any special assembly for the game, food drive or prep time before the game. We had the whole family together for dinner afterwards and probably talked about the game -- there wasn't much to say and the food limited conversation. I can't over emphasize how big Thanksgiving was. The food, game and family made it very special. That and Pesach (Jewish holiday of Passover) were Al’s and my favorite holidays.
 
 
My Reflections of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Duane Lowell, Lincoln ‘55
Regarding the 1954 Thanksgiving game, I have the following reflections: This was the last game of a great season, and we were undefeated under two great coaches Norm Mayer and Harry Bird. It was a sun shining day and the crowd set a record. It was a big deal. Stadium had a great team and were well-coached. They surprised us with a waiting defensive line, and it really hurt our running game. We could not spring Luther Carr for any big gains and were down 6 to 0 with seconds left before half time. Stadium was forced to punt. I got emotional and told myself l was going to block their punt. Harry Bird had coached me to cross my arms in front of my face and run straight into the kicker. I ran past George Jones and blocked the punt, picked up ball and ran about 35 yards and scored. We led 7-6 at the half. We never made any adjustments to our running game however, and Stadium scored to win 13-7. There was no joy in East Tacoma that day, and Thanksgiving dinner was not a fun event. Hats off to Stadium on their win. Even at age 85 it still hurts.
My Recollection of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Dick Zierman, Lincoln ‘56
Thanksgiving Day 1955 was one of the greatest days of my life. I knew I was going to have a nice turkey dinner with my family, but the main excitement was going to be the football game between Stadium and Lincoln in Lincoln Bowl. It was an annual event and the largest attendance day for football of the year. As a senior I knew it was the last football game I would play with this bunch of guys.
 
I remember the weather was lousy, wet and windy but typical for this time of year. We assembled in the locker room to pick up our uniforms and start getting prepared for the muddy field and the Stadium Tigers.
Nevertheless, the excitement was there. As we were getting our uniforms on, coaches Norm Mayer and Harry Bird were there talk to us about how we would remember this game for the rest of our lives and winning would make the remembering even better. Uniforms on, we lined up at the top of the hill in our gold and black jerseys and waited for the coaches to give us the go ahead. Down the hill we ran and out onto the field. The Stadium players were already there at the far end of the bowl in their gold and blue uniforms and were warming up. When we started down the hill all the Lincoln fans on the East side of the stadium stood up and started yelling "Lincoln, Lincoln".  The sound made you feel bigger and faster.
 
I played left end and was split out most of the time to open up the middle of their defense so our running backs could gain a few more yards. I wore a Wilson model helmet because I could see the ball better as it had a single face bar so as not to block my view. Most of the players had birdcage masks to protect their face better. It was a grey day with a little wind and the field was dirt mixed with sand.
 
Stadium had won one game that year and lost the rest. I think Lincoln was ranked pretty high in the state having been the number one team in the state the year before. Our record that year was 8-1, our only loss was to Olympia down there. I remember catching a few passes from quarterback Doug McClary but nothing to brag about. The running game was really working lead by Bill Elmore along with Harry Harper and Ernie Altheimer. Our offensive line was opening large holes and the backs were taking advantage of that. After rolling around on the ground, the wet sand would work its way into your pads and down your pants. If you haven't experienced something like that-well good for you because it was scratchy and wet.
 
The game wasn't very close as I remember, the crowd was loud and the people were all over the place. I remember coming off the field after we had blown a play and coach Mayer was scrubbing his head with that old Lincoln baseball cap he always wore. I can laugh now but we didn't dare back then. After the game we all stood around and hugged each other and shook hands with the Stadium players, many of whom I knew from having played with them at Jason Lee. Many of us knew it would be the last time we would be together so we wanted to hang around and enjoy that feeling as long as we could. We retreated to the locker room and removed our wet and dirty uniforms and headed for the nice hot shower.
 
The coaches and visitors were complimenting us on a nice game… it was great. I road home with my sister and her soon to be brother-in-law Dean Doering who was an outstanding baseball player at Lincoln years before. It was the one time we had turkey. I lived on a farm and we raised chickens, so turkey only happened once a year. Thanksgiving was topped off with some pumpkin pie and ice cream. After all was cleaned up, we would gather around our old Baldwin player piano and sing some great songs. I will never forget that Thanksgiving day. Coaches Mayer and Bird were right. I will never forget that game!  
 
 
My Reflections of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Dave Williams, Lincoln ‘63
The wonderful Turkey Day game tradition was one of the most significant sports experiences for me personally as well as the Williams clan in our lives! The happiness and joy of Thanksgiving Day would rise and fall depending on Lincoln winning the game. It started with my oldest brother, Big Joe, who I believe played in the 1952, 1953 and 1954 Turkey Day games against Stadium. Brother Jerry, who just passed away this last May 7th, God bless his soul, played in the 1955, 1956 and 1957 games against Stadium. I had the honor to play in the 1960, 1961 and 1962 Turkey Day games all against Wilson High School.  
 
Regardless of our win/loss record, the Turkey Day game determined a successful season or not. The day before the game our Lincoln Lettermen's Club distributed large food and beverage boxes to those families in need- usually 40 to 50 families in the area. This was always a very humbling experience and kept all of us in focus on the important things in life.  
 
As all of you remember, back in the day, Lincoln Bowl had NO grass, but rather dirt and sand. It didn’t much matter because we were so excited, we could have played on the Safeway parking lot and not griped about it! The game was always about noon so most of us arrived at the locker rooms at 9:00 a.m. This is the one game that our legendary head coach, Norman Mayer, never needed to give a pep talk. We had a huge pep rally and bonfire the night before and burned the Ram representing Wilson’s mascot. I never really noticed the crowd size for the game or anytime during my career. The focus and intensity needed to be so great that I just never heard the crowd. However, I could sure hear Coach Mayer chewing my ass out for a mistake or a bad play!  
 
The Williams clan numbered about 60 in the Puget Sound area in those days and we always met for Thanksgiving Day dinner after the game. All the conversation was about the game in one context or another and of course, if we won, the food and conversation was great.
 
My Reflections of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Dick Zatkovich, Wilson ‘64
I played in two T-Day classics, my sophomore and junior years against the dreaded rival, Lincoln. Both games were close and extremely tough, as both teams were loaded with excellent high school/college players. Fred Forsberg, Bill Parker, Mike Tower, Ron Sweeney, Jeff Hale, Norm Strom were Ram teammates and Lincoln had Donnie Moore, Dave Williams, Brent DeMeeleer, Bill Vodarski (a cousin of mine) and Dan Hager. The ‘62 game, when I was a sophomore, I started at middle linebacker and I won the tackle-pool (a whopping $3.75) and had a solid game against the eventual state champs. I was completely worn out at the dinner table and, yes the game was the focal point. The same thing happened for the ‘63 game and that one had the largest crowd ever to watch a high school game there, 13,995 people. I remember they brought in bleachers and put them up behind each end zone. It was a beautiful, cold and crisp Fall day and the place was loud and crazy. Lincoln was #1 in the state and undefeated and we were #4, our only loss to Lincoln during the season, 13-12. I remember I was as nervous as I'd ever been and the game went down to wire, with Lincoln beating us 13-7. At the dinner table, the game occupied most of the conversation and I always ate a ton of turkey and saved a little room for some of my mom's apple pie. 
 
I remember how big the game was for Tacoma and it was our version of the state playoffs. Bands, cheerleaders, fans, parents, classmates, it was a real big deal and the only game in town. I played guard and linebacker and it was always strange playing that game because it was the only day game on the schedule. The games were brutal and well played and the fans always got their money’s worth. The turf was that sand mix that always got down deep in the pads, and I always remember the burning sensation when we showered after the game. Our bodies looked like someone had sand-papered us. It was red and hurt for days. 
Wilson had a big pep assembly and a parade of cars that started out in front of the school that led to the Bowl. 
These were some of the greatest memories of all time in my playing career and I loved every crazy minute of it.
 
 
My Reflections of Playing in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Rob Benedetti, Stadium ‘69
The Turkey Day game was the setting for some of the most memorable athletic experiences of my life. Consequently, my recollections are mostly first person. My junior year we (Stadium) finished in second place with a 5-3 won-loss record, I think. Mount Tahoma was undefeated, had Bobby Moore, aka Ahmad Rashad, as their marquee player and were ranked #2 in the state. That year, I was starting only on defense, at defensive back, but playing backup QB. The weekend before the Turkey Day game, our starting QB became ineligible for some kind of an infraction, and it led to that game being my first high school start as a quarterback.  I focused on not making any mistakes and can’t remember if I even threw one pass. I’d be surprised if we had 100 yds total in offense, but our defense played out of their minds intercepting five or six Rod Bolek passes, one of which flew up in the air like a wounded duck after Jim Gallo hit him as he was releasing the ball from near his own end zone.  I jumped in front of Bobby Moore in the left flat on the 15-yard line and ran untouched for a touchdown, the only one scored by either team that day.
 
The next year we finished second to Wilson and were seeking revenge for a rather bad loss in our first game during the season.  The game was pretty even and we were driving in the fourth quarter, seven points down, when I threw behind an open receiver, was intercepted, and we ended up losing.
 
I think I remember those two plays so vividly because the Turkey Day game was such a big deal in the Tacoma sporting calendar. You would have to be pretty jaded to not get up for it. The excitement in the school was palpable the week before, with signs plastering the halls, though I don’t remember if we had an in-school pep rally. I don’t remember if coaches Levinson and Kintz introduced anything special, but I do remember Coach Levinson putting his arm around my shoulder before I ran onto the field for my first QB start against Mt. Tahoma, gave me encouragement, but asked me to keep the ball on the ground. His cautionary feelings about my chances at success with the ball in my hands were palpable. Running onto the field before 10,000 was a real trip, but as soon as we started playing the crowd disappeared from my awareness. Both of those games were played on moist dirt, but it did not rain during the game and the field was not muddy. It did not really affect the playing, as we were used to it from our field in the Stadium Bowl.
 
My family had all come to the game and we had dinner after I returned, which after the first game was quite a celebration. Though I was complimented for scoring the only points, I remember giving most of the credit to the entire defensive team, and that I was lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time. Most of the credit for that play should have gone to Jim Gallo, who I think intercepted a pass by himself later in the game.  
 
My Reflections of Coaching in the annual Turkey Day Game
By Joe Stortini, Mt. Tahoma HS
My first year as the head football coach at Mt. Tahoma High School was in 1965 and I remember the first team meeting with the players and their parents as we kept the heart of our goals on the locker room wall the entire season: PRIDE, POSITIVE ATTITUDE and TURKEY DAY! Our season schedule ended with us playing Lincoln High School, and we were told by Bill Post, the Tacoma School District Athletic Director, that the winning team would play Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. We went out and knocked off the Abes, and the following Monday, we had an early morning pep assembly. The student body and faculty all shared the Friday Night win and the right to face Stadium. I remember being on stage with Ron Cey and Bobby Moore addressing the entire school enrollment when our principal came to the microphone with a special announcement. We were excited, only to be told that even though we won, Lincoln was tied with Mt. Tahoma for second place. They decided the winner with a flip of a coin, and we lost the flip. We were sad and disappointed, yes, but we had more reason for hard work and commitment. 
 
In 1966 we won the City League championship and defeated Lincoln on Turkey Day, 33-12. In 1967 we won the City League crown again and were considered to be one of the top teams in the state. We played Stadium Thanksgiving Day and Lincoln Bowl was a mud bowl, with the T-Birds losing to the Tigers, 6-0. Despite the loss we kept our schedule for dinner at Steve’s Gay Nineties, even though it was a sad and disappointing event. 
 
From my first year at Mt. Tahoma to the last year of the annual Turkey Day game in 1972, the Thunderbirds played in five of the eight contests. And, on each Thanksgiving Day game we participated in, the mornings started with the parents, players and coaches attending a church service together. Despite the 8-0 loss to Ed Fallon’s Bellarmine Lions in the final game of a 50-year tradition, it is an honor to be the lone remaining head coach still around to share and reflect back on Turkey Day--A great memory for many reasons.         
 
By Marc Blau (with thanks to the editing pencils of Doug McArthur and Gary Brooks and to the players and coaches who were kind enough to share their personal stories for this special feature, to Ilona Perry and the Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library for assisting with access to newspaper accounts of the games and to the Shanaman Sports Museum archives).
 
 
 
 
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