Griswold's cross-county battle against Plainfield takes pause in 2020
Gregg Wilcox still isn't sure what Thanksgiving Day will be like this year.
For Wilcox, in his eighth year as Griswold/Wheeler's football coach and 19th year on the Wolverines' staff, the day has always included high school football.
"I don't remember the last time I didn't go to a Thanksgiving game,'' he said. "Even before I started coaching football at Griswold, my brother played and I used to go to his games.
"This Thanksgiving is going to be weird. Family this year will be my immediate family and not the extended family that we would normally have.''
Griswold and Plainfield, like all other Thanksgiving Day rivalries in the state, will not play this year due to COVID-19. And the neighboring towns from different counties (Griswold is in New London County; Plainfield in Windham County) have developed a very good rivalry over the years. Griswold has won nine of the last 10 games, but five have been decided by a touchdown or less.
"We've been fortunate. It's just the way the ball bounces,'' said Wilcox. "We get the kids worked up for the game. Because it's a rivalry and Thanksgiving Day itself. It's a fun time.''
A senior captain and wide receiver/defensive back at Griswold, Devon Chykow dressed for the game against Plainfield as a freshman and played in the game the next two seasons.
But COVID-19 stepped in and seniors like Chykow have already learned more about adjusting to changes in life than any teenagers before them.
But no Thanksgiving football?
"It will definitely be different,'' he said. "Having the game, being able to be with your teammates and having that family bond with them. It bothers us but at the end of the day we can't do anything about it.''
Pat Smith has been Plainfield's head coach since 2000 and has been on the coaching staff since 1993. He was also a three-year starter at quarterback for the Panthers and his son Liam, a senior, is also a three-year starter at quarterback. Because of his son, Smith has a special bond with the senior class.
"I feel bad for the kids, I've known most of them since they were five," Smith said. "Missing the traditions of Thanksgiving ... the bonfires, pep rallies, spaghetti dinners and alumni returning. A lot of people only come to one football game, this one.
"Ask people in their 40s or 50s what they remember most about high school and they will say their senior year of football, senior basketball season, senior wrestling season. It's the relationships that you build. It's part of your experience in life.''
The teams played a 7-on-7 game on Oct. 6 (Plainfield won 28-27). Chykow caught a touchdown pass in the game.
"It wasn't like real football,'' said Chykow. "I'm not trying to say it wasn't fun. It was fun. But nothing like a Thanksgiving game.''
Wilcox and Smith hope the teams can play later this school year, but know nothing is guaranteed.
"I hope they give us five games,'' said Smith. "I think there's enough smart people at the state level to make this work.''
Wilcox just knows getting back to normal is the best thing.
"I think just playing football next year, we'll have a greater appreciation for it,'' said Wilcox. "It's been a long fall. This is the cleanest the leaves have ever been in my yard.''
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