A helping of novelty

For those who have grown accustomed to the thrill of seeing South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., battle Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., in Thanksgiving Day gridiron action, this holiday’s 10 a.m. alteration of that familiar and eight-decades-strong matchup will certainly prove awkward yet will not lack for local laurels. Due to the latter’s October cancellation of its remaining slate on account of a reduced roster, the Rams will instead look to batter the Griffins from The Academy at Palumbo, 1100 Catharine St., at the South Philly Supersite, 10th and Bigler streets.

“This is huge for our program,” coach Scott Pitzner said from George Washington Carver Engineering and Science High School, where he serves as athletic director, of his club’s inaugural participation in a Thanksgiving duel. “I know that many people, including me, lived for Neumann-Goretti versus Southern games, so this is a big change for them to handle, and we’re going to do our part to keep the holiday vibe strong by giving our best on each play.”

The former East Passyunk Crossing dweller possesses additional awareness of the mystique surrounding the typical tilt between the parochial institution and its public nemesis through having been Southern’s head man for two campaigns. As the lone coach Palumbo has had in its three-season pigskin annals, he is always encouraging his charges to consider the gravity of each moment, with the opportunity to take on a fellow South Philly school certainly a compelling blessing.

“When he reached out to us, it made sense overall because there’s no serious travel involved and because of the shot at having bragging rights,” Pitzner said of contact from Southern’s overseer, Frank “Roscoe” Natale. “The fact that we know all about that team and will be playing on a familiar field are important, too, because I didn’t want to be somebody’s homecoming queen.”

He and the Griffins are the beneficiaries of Neumann-Goretti’s need to halt its involvement in the Turkey Bowl. For the aforementioned reason, head coach Lincoln Townsend and his players, having already decided to forfeit their two remaining Catholic League Blue dates, will not compete and thus will give spectators a shot at seeing two public league institutions look to make a memorable morning. Considering that Palumbo, which struggled mightily its first two years of existence, captured its division title and enters, at 5–5, with a winning season on the line, the stage is set for such an unforgettable affair.

“When I joined the team, I knew they weren’t really respected but also that we could be very good,” senior wide receiver Kenny Bennett, an Engineering and Science registrant who plays for Pitzner thanks to a co-op agreement, said. “I believed we could bring everything together and build the program. Thanksgiving is just going to be proof that we’ve grown as a group.”

Headed for the University of Maryland as Palumbo’s first Division I pigskin signee, Bennett has proven a menace on both sides of the ball and will look to do damage to Southern’s defensive schemes and cause fits in his secondary role as a member of the Griffins’ secondary.

“We’ve seen them practice and competed in unofficial scrimmages with them,” Pitzner, a veteran of Thanksgiving preparation through his Southern tenure and his New Jersey-based playing days, said. “We know Roscoe’s gameplan; it’s all a matter of stopping it.”

IN HOPING TO head back to his Garden State home a victor, the eager coach will need for his hungry bunch to devour the ambition of a program well-versed in holiday hoopla. Though possessing a losing record on Thanksgiving due to powerful performances from Neumann-Goretti, formerly Southeast Catholic, Bishop Neumann, and Saint John Neumann High School, Southern has always delighted in experiencing the spirit of the a.m. clashes, and Manier Kennedy expects for his final game as a Ram to prove a testament to his school’s tenacity.

“A win will be a nice end to a good year,” the wide receiver and cornerback said of the desired triumph that would lift his unit’s mark to 6–6. “We’ve matured over the season, so nobody wants to leave that field with a loss.”

The Grays Ferry inhabitant has nagged adversaries in the aforementioned positions and as a kick returner, gladly showing his resolve to his contemporaries and Natale.

“He’s a great leader and we rely on him so much to start trouble,” the East Passyunk Crossing denizen said of the speedster. “I expect for him and everybody else to play their hearts out.”

Natale’s roster benefits from multiple co-op agreements, with registrants from Universal Audenried Charter High School, 3301 Tasker St.; Horace Furness High School, 1900 S. Third St.; and the Girard Academic Music Program, 2136 W. Ritner St., adding local flavor to the proceedings. In making the pitch to Pitzner to have Palumbo play in place of Neumann-Goretti, the revered coach, who will helm his third Thanksgiving game for the Rams, felt it would be “a perfect pairing” and contends that it will yield fascinating matchups, including Bennett versus Kennedy.

“Everybody’s local, it’s in South Philly, and it’s going to leave plenty of time for people to go home and be with their families,” Natale, a former South Philly Review Readers’ Choice Awards honoree as top high school/youth coach, said. “We’re going through the same motions, and we’re looking forward to the opening kick because no matter what the opposite jerseys say, we’re not backing down.”

“Definitely not,” Kennedy seconded, smiling when Natale called him and the others “a great group of guys.” “We’ll go in relaxed, but nobody is going to sneak up on us as long as we play Rams football for four quarters.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

Manier Kennedy will look to reach the end zone multiple times for coach Frank Natale.

Photo by Tina Garceau