The Mainland Regional and Egg Harbor Township high school football teams will end their Thanksgiving rivalry Thursday.

The schools are making the right decision.

It might be hard for traditionalists to understand, but high school football has shifted its focus away from these holiday rivalries to the playoffs.

“This is something that has been on the horizon for a few years,” Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley said.

These holiday rivalries simply aren’t what they used to be.

The crowds aren’t as big as people make them out to be. Some players even miss the game because they’re traveling with family during the holiday.

But traditions still die hard.

“I love the tradition,” EHT athletic director Mike Pellegrino said. “I love the Thanksgiving game. I have a great time there. I understand it all. This is in no way an attack on those traditions. It’s really trying to look out for my program, coaches and players and putting the best foot forward for them.”

Mainland and EHT first played on Thanksgiving in 1983. Back then, the playoffs, which started in 1974, were relatively new. Only four teams made the field in each enrollment group. Schools wanted to play on Thanksgiving.

But the state football landscape has changed drastically in the past decade. With its Regional Championship games, which started last year, the state is one weekend of games away from crowning a true state champion in the public-school enrollment groups.

A proposal is expected in the next month or so to add the final step.

As harsh as it sounds, Thanksgiving games are going away.

The regular season ends the first week in November.

By not playing on Thanksgiving, teams that don’t make the playoffs or lose in the first round can give their athletes time to recover from the bumps and bruises of the football season before winter sports begin.

Teams that do advance in the playoffs don’t want to deal with playing a regular season game in the middle of the postseason.

Atlantic City will have been off for 27 days before it plays Holy Spirit on Thursday. Oakcrest was off for 20 days before it played Absegami on Wednesday night.

“In general, if we won in a playoff game or we lost in a playoff game,” Gatley said. “That should be it.”

It also benefits teams’ playoff chances to play earlier in the season.

The system for qualifying for the playoffs is complicated. But simply put, the more games a school plays against opponents with winning records and large enrollments, the better chance it has of making the playoffs.

Mainland and EHT will each give themselves a better chance of making the playoffs by meeting in the regular season.

“With the format for the playoffs, pushing a game to Thanksgiving is going to detract from our team,” Pellegrino said. “We want to give our teams the opportunity to compete for South Jersey titles.”

The rest of the state has gotten the message. Five years ago, the Shore Conference in Monmouth and Ocean counties had 17 Thanksgiving games scheduled. This year, it’s five.

Carteret vs. Perth Amboy, which began in 1927 and was Middlesex County’s oldest rivalry, was moved from Thanksgiving to the season opener this year.

Mainland and EHT plan to continue their rivalry. They plan to still play for the Kiwanis Trophy that is at stake Thursday. They plan to keep the traditions that surround the game, such as the annual luncheon both teams attend.

“People are worried we’re going to stop doing those things,” Pellegrino said. “We want to keep our bonfire. We want to keep our powder-puff game. I think people are concerned we’re going to lose those traditions.”

They’re not.

All Mainland and EHT are going to do is change the date of the game. And for high school football in 2019 and the how the sport will be structured going forward, it’s the right choice for the current players and coaches.

Mike McGarry’s Must Win traditionally runs on Fridays.

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