For many in the community of Collingswood, Thanksgiving represents a time to get out and support the high school football team in its annual showdown against Colonial Conference foe Sterling.
For seniors such as Forrley Gunby, Thursday’s game represents one last chance to put on the Panther uniform and play for the school. When the Panthers and Knights meet at 11 a.m. at Collingswood it will be last game of the season for each team and the last game of high school football for many of the players.
“It’s definitely going to hurt,” Gunby said. “We definitely had a lot of adversity this season and as far as I’m concerned we fought through it. I’m really proud of our team.”
Things have not gone the way Collingswood had hoped this season, with the team reaching Thursday’s contest at 2-7. Many things have led to the lack of success on the field—youth and injuries included—but the Panthers aren’t thinking about the missed opportunities. They are thinking about ending the season on a positive note and delivering a proper sendoff for the seniors and a building block for the players that will return.
“We want to see the young guys grow up and step it up a bit,” said Collingswood head coach Jack McConnell. “We want to really play hard for our seniors; this is what this is really about. We have our alumni coming back and the message is going to be to ‘take some pride in where we come from and let's give everybody a good show.’”
Sterling may not be one of Collingswood’s direct rivals—those honors go
to Audubon and Haddon Township—but the game still brings out some of the same emotions that century-old rivalries such as Haddonfield-Haddon Heights and Millville-Vineland feature.
“We have some people we know from both sides, so it’s been a good rivalry for us,” McConnell said. “It’s all I’ve known, since when I played here I played Sterling as well. It’s a nice game for us.”
Sterling enters as the favorite, on paper, at 4-5 and fresh off a first-round loss to West Deptford Group 2 playoffs. McConnell is hoping fans will put aside his team’s record and come out and take part in a Thanksgiving tradition.
“It’s a good atmosphere,” McConnell said. “There is a breakfast beforehand for both teams and the players and fans really seem to enjoy it.”
Fans can also take in one last chance to see seniors like Gunby, who is the type of player who has worked just as hard in wins as he has in lopsided losses. The Panthers' senior said he will once again be laying it all on the field in his final contest, hoping to end his career on a winning note.
“It will feel the same to me,” Gunby said. “For a lot of guys it might frighten them a little bit, but once that opening kickoff takes place the emotions will take over and the butterflies will be gone.
"Then it’s about going out there and hitting somebody,” he said.