Lakewood-South’s Final Thanksgiving Game This Year

Lakewood's Zyheir Jones gains yardage during the Thanksgiving Day game in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Steve Peacock)

  LAKEWOOD – The Russell E. Wright Athletic Field will be the scene of history, festivities, food and fellowship on Thanksgiving Day.

  The Lakewood Piners will host the Toms River South Indians at 11 a.m. in the Centennial Football Game – the 100th renewal in one of the state’s oldest high school rivalries.

  And it will be the final time the teams will trade tackles on Turkey Day, according to ninth-year Lakewood coach L.J. Clark. He said the clubs will meet next season in Lakewood on a date to be announced. Clark said the Shore Conference will announce the schedule in February.       

  “People feel it is more of a hassle than anything else to play on Thanksgiving Day,” said Clark, who played for the Piners as outside linebacker and running back from 1996-99 and served as a Lakewood assistant coach for several seasons.

  “On each Thanksgiving Day that I can remember, the Lakewood-Toms River South game had a special place in my heart,” Clark said. “I won’t know what to do on Thanksgiving Day now that we won’t have the game.”

Lakewood’s cheerleaders are in full voice for their Piners earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of Steve Peacock)

  “The game is a part of history,” ninth-year South coach Ron Signorino Jr. said. “It’s kind of sad. The game will be played for 100 straight years. You can’t say that about a lot of things. It’s a big deal and the people who are involved with the game continue to make it a big deal.”

  “The spirit brought about by the preparation made this game the greatest rivalry,” South principal Mike Citta said. “This game will never be forgotten. It will be forever in the hearts and minds of the men who played in this game on Thanksgiving Day!”      

  Numerous Shore Conference teams no longer play on Thanksgiving Day. The NJSIAA playoffs are a large part of the reason as they take preference over holiday action.

  “The game is not conducive to today’s schedule,” Signorino Jr. said. “It will have been three weeks since we have last played a game and Lakewood is in the same boat. It used to be that every team played nine games and the year ended on Thanksgiving Day. It’s an iconic game in its own right.”

  Signorino Jr. competed for the Indians in 1979-80 at defensive back and wide receiver. His father, Ron Signorino Sr., guided the Indians to numerous victories over the Piners. The Indians lead the series 56-39-4. Host South won last year’s game 56-39. Signorino Sr. is an assistant coach under his son. Signorino Jr. was an assistant coach from 1997-2000 in his dad’s second tour of duty at the helm.  

  “I grew up with this game because of Dad,” Signorino Jr. said. “Lakewood had a pretty good group of players. I always wanted to play well against Lakewood. In the early years of this game, Lakewood was a huge rival. The births of Toms River North and Toms River East have taken a little bit away from this game. I am honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to play and coach in such an iconic game.

  “I was excited as a little kid to see this game. The first thing I did on Thanksgiving was go to a football game. Thanksgiving Day is football. You start off with good football and good food. It’s sad that it’s ending. The NFL does it,” he said.

  There will be plenty of festivities on that day.

Root for the Lakewood Piners with a Terrible Towel. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Orellana)

  Each living player from all three schools (South’s original name was Toms River High School) from 1940 through 2020 will be honored in a pregame ceremony on the field, named for the legendary, late Lakewood mentor who coached in the rivalry. The players will be seated beyond each end zone.

  Participants from the schools are urged to be on the track prior to 10 a.m. on Lakewood’s side of the field. They will be directed to the yard line that represents when they played, broken down decade-by-decade through the 2018 season.

  There will be an Alumni Tent at the game. Ex-Lakewood players John Franklin and Joe Buckelew – the oldest living former Piners, according to Clark – will perform the coin toss. Franklin and Buckelew are 1947 Lakewood graduates.

  Signorino Sr. and Harry Pomeroy will represent the Indians at the coin toss. Signorino Sr. coached the Indians to a 9-0 record in 1968. Pomeroy attends every South football game dressed in his white cowboy hat and jersey that belonged to Charlie Samiras. The jersey contains 75 different spirit pins that have been collected through the years.         

  The South and Lakewood bands will combine to perform the halftime show. There will be two public address announcers from each school. Representing Lakewood will be Jim Colbert, the current Voice of the Piners, and the retired James White.

  A free Alumni Breakfast for ex-Indians and former Piners players and coaches will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Lakewood cafeteria. The breakfast will be provided by Sodexo Food Services. Enter the building from the Somerset Avenue parking lot door No. 14.

  Former Lakewood and Indians players who want their names on the list for shout-outs by the announcers during the game must sign up during the breakfast.

  Retired athletics trainers Deborah Morante, who headed the Indians’ athletes for 37 years as the first full-time trainer in the Shore Conference, and retired Lakewood athletics trainer Pat Halpin will be introduced. Halpin was the first full-time athletics trainer in the Lakewood Township School District.

  Morante and Halpin are former South athletes. Morante, who became South’s trainer in 1978, competed in women’s luge in the 1988 United States Olympic Trials. She played field hockey and basketball and competed in track and field at South. She played softball and volleyball at Drake University.

  Halpin competed in field hockey, basketball and track at South, graduating in 1974. She played field hockey at Eastern Kentucky University.                      

  Prior to the contest, The National Anthem will be played by the bands of each school and their alumni.

  Following the game, the names of the players from both teams will be announced. Each player will be introduced. South fans and alumni will gather at the scoreboard and sing Old Indian Tom, the school’s song. Lakewood fans and alumni will gather at the flag pole area and sing the school’s alma mater to the tune of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” The words to both songs are in the free Game Day Ad Journal.

  One player from each team will be named the game’s Most Valuable Player for their club. Each team will perform its school’s song in its end zone after the game. Members of South’s band, cheerleaders and mascots will pose for pictures with fans.                 

  Commemorative coins will be available for $20 each. There will be food trucks at the game. T-shirts are on sale for $18 each. Long sleeve t-shirts are going for $25 each. Terrible Towels are being sold for $6 each.

The 1964 championship Lakewood High School football team poses for its picture. (Photo courtesy of the 1965 Pine Needle Annual Yearbook and the Lakewood Historical Museum)

  To purchase South oriented tickets, shirts and coins, contact the main office at 732-505-5734. The items will also be available for purchase at the bonfire-pep rally at Detwiler Stadium at South on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 5:30 p.m. Students, staff and alumni are invited to the bonfire-pep rally. The first powderpuff football game in history between the Lady Piners and the Lady Indians took place as part of Spirit Week at South.           

  Tickets will be pre-sold at the Lakewood High School ticket booth near the gymnasium entrance on Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. Adult tickets are $4 each. Tickets for students and senior citizens are $2 each.   

  “All monies raised will go to $250 scholarships for both schools,” Halpin said on her Facebook page.

  Halpin said security will be tight.

  “Security will check the bags of the fans so please do not bring bags to the game unless they are clear,” she said on her Facebook page. “All fans will be wanded. The gates to the field will open at 9:30 a.m. There will be no entrance allowed before 9:30 even if you bought your ticket in advance of the game.”       

  There will be a bonfire at the Lakewood Elks Lodge at 711 West Kennedy Blvd. from 3:30 p.m.-whenever on Thanksgiving Eve. It will be sponsored by the Lakewood Alumni Association and the Lakewood Elks. There will be live bands, food trucks and memorabilia such as hoodies and sweatshirts for sale.

  Music and social festivities will take place upstairs. Available for purchase on the lower level are tickets, T-shirts, commemorative coins and Terrible Towels.  

  “The members of the association and the Elks are going above and beyond to ensure that this is a fun joyous and memorable event,” pre-event literature states. “Let’s set the mood for this historical and final game by sharing memories, good food and great music. The first hundred years are the hardest.”

  The Centennial Game Committee consists of Laura Winters, superintendent of the Lakewood Township Public School District; Citta, Piner Elementary School Principal Marcy Marshall, Lakewood High School Principal and 1995 LHS graduate Ebony Rivera, Lakewood athletics director Tom Stead, Robert DeSimone, Lakewood Public School District Director of Security; Oscar Orellana, director of Lakewood School Counseling; Kevin Walters, supervisor of humanities in the Lakewood Public School Disrict, Dave Correll Sr., the veteran voice of the Indians, and Jim White, the retired veteran voice of the Piners.

  Also on the committee are John Barron, Dr. David Berrios, Joe Brown, Alejandre Castillo, Bob Chadwick, Victoria Chadwick, Clark, Jerome Cohen, Morgana Cohen, Angela Silver Corenblith, Dave Correll Jr., Vinnie Currao, former Lakewood football coach and athletics director; Bill Curtis, Steve Curtis, Charlie DePeri, Jodi Dotts, Tyler Flint, Jeff Frantz, Halpin, Manuel Hirshblond, Nickerson Jean Louis, Kevin Gavan, Janis Kristbergs, Emily Latshaw, Steve Peacock, Greg Sharkey, Greg Sycle, Tracey Tift, Tina Watson and Maxine Worthy.                    

Lakewood marching band director Franklin Unger is shown with majorette Nelda Taylor in 1958. (Photo courtesy of the 1959 Pine Needle Annual Yearbook and the Lakewood Historical Museum)

  “Committees have been meeting every Thursday since June to plan the festivities,” Clark said.

  The game will be memorialized for future generations at the Sheldon Wolpin Lakewood Historical Museum at 500 Country Club Drive. For more information, visit The museum is open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.   

  Steve Peacock, who teaches English and Language Arts at Lakewood and is an advisor for the Pine Needle Student Monthly, has unveiled what he terms is a “digital museum” about the series. The initial release of more than 1,300 images on the social media site Pinterest follows the countdown until the end of the game.

  The effort is known as The Lakewood-Toms River Centennial Football Page, also known as the Digital Centennial Museum. Peacock, a 1982 Lakewood graduate was inducted into Lakewood Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019 for his football prowess.

  “What started as curiosity driven research morphed into an amassing of a comprehensive record of the game’s history,” Peacock said in a press release. He emphasized that the endeavor equally offers a retrospective of the teams as well as their support squads.

  “This project offers an unbiased celebration of the entire spectacle,” Peacock said. “Sure, football remains the focal point. And, of course, I will be rooting for Lakewood on Thanksgiving. But in the process of pouring over 100 years of yearbooks and newspaper articles I deemed it equally important to include to the largest extent possible the marching bands, color guards, cheerleading squads, game attendees and other participants.”

  The Lakewood Historical Society Museum, the Ocean County Historical Society, the Toms River Branch of the Ocean County Library and the Lakewood High School Library were the primary sources of Peacock’s image-centered research. The Asbury Park Press through likewise was a critical resource for game-day data, which Peacock plans to use for a corollary video and journalistic project.

  Peacock also served on the Centennial Planning Committee. Although the digital museum is Peacock’s individual project, the committee and the administration of the Lakewood Township School District are supportive of the endeavor as a means of promoting the event.

  The Centennial’s Pinterest page is centennial. The Centennial’s Facebook page is                 

  Clark said a large crowd will attend the game.

  “I expect 5,000-8,000 fans,” he said. “The presale for tickets is 3,500. A lot of my former players will attend.”

  There will be a large crowd despite the scarcity of wins between the teams.

  South enters at 2-5 overall. The Indians are sixth among seven teams in the Shore Conference Freedom Division at 1-5. The Piners are 1-7 overall. They’re 0-7 for last place in the Freedom Division. Opponents have outscored the Indians 219-140. Lakewood has scored 90 points and allowed 255.

  South’s top player is senior outside linebacker Josh Odebode, the team’s captain. Lakewood hopes for strong play from senior quarterback T.J. Paturzo, who scored touchdowns on runs of 76, 58, 10, 20 and two yards in a 42-6 win over host Manchester Township.

Commemorative coins are available. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Orellana)

  “Lakewood always has some of the better players on the field,” Signorino Jr. said. “They generally do what they are coached to do. Fans like high-scoring games. I don’t. Lakewood can absolutely score points. The weather will play a factor.”

  “Like ourselves, South has not had the year it wanted,” Clark said. “They throw the ball a lot better than they have in the past and they run the option. We have to complete enough passes to keep South honest. We will have to run the ball to win the game. They want to win the game as badly as we do. The turkey always tastes better after a win.

  “I don’t feel either team has scored a lot of points this season. People like to see points scored. I am a 13-6 type of guy. I would rather win ugly than lose pretty. We don’t have a lot of flash.”

  Grid Gossip: Wright coached the Piners for 20 years, retiring in 1950. He guided Lakewood to seven championships, including four Central Jersey Group II titles.

  Wright taught health physical education and driver’s education at Lakewood for more than 40 years and served as its athletics director. The field was named in his honor in 1959. He died during the early 1970s.  

  Tymere Berry, who starred for South, and former Lakewood standouts Chapelle Russell and Amir Tyler are enjoying productive seasons at Monmouth University and Temple University, respectively.

  Berry, a redshirt senior defensive back, helped the Hawks (10-2, 6-0) to the Big South Conference regular season title. He was fifth on the team in total tackles with 43 and third on the club in solo stops with 36 through his first 11 outings of the season.

  He added seven assists. He blazed 41 yards with an interception for a touchdown. He made 2 1/2 tackles for nine yards lost and added five pass breakups, six pass deflections, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

  The Hawks will host Holy Cross in the 2019 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Kessler Stadium in West Long Branch. Ranked 12th in the nation in the subdivision, Monmouth owns an eight-game winning streak. The Hawks outscored their opponents 334-137 and averaged 41.8 points per game during the streak. 

  Russell, a linebacker and a graduate student, was second on the Owls (7-4) in total tackles (57) and first in assists (21) through his first 11 games of the season. He made 36 solo tackles. He added seven tackles for 11 yards lost, three pass breakups and one quarterback hit.

  Tyler, a redshirt junior safety, was among Temple’s top tacklers through his first 10 games of 2019. He was seventh in total tackles with 44, making 34 solo stops and adding 10 assists. He posted two tackles for three yards lost and added five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.