Needham High Varsity football team / Credit: Topher Cox Photography

by Bob Clark

It’s America’s oldest public high school football rivalry – Needham vs. Wellesley. They’ll meet for the 135th time Thanksgiving morning, this time in Wellesley, whose Red Raiders lead the series 65-60 with nine ties, and have won the last three Turkey Day games.

Needham’s Rockets, 9-2 on the season, are coming off last week’s disappointing 20-17 loss to Xaverian in the semifinals of the Division 1 state tournament. So for seniors, Thanksgiving Day is the last time they’ll take the field together.

“No matter where they go or what they do in life, they will remember this game and how they played,” Needham coach Doug Kopcso told the Observer. “When the final whistle blows, they will leave the field for the last time together knowing that they have given everything of themselves. Each player will express unwavering love for his teammates and will know that this love has been reciprocated through every block, run, and tackle.”

The game will air on The Needham Channel tonight.

Football rivals huddle for dinner

by Seth Bauer

Needham and Wellesley Rotary Clubs pre-game dinner Credit: Needham Observer

Bringing players together to meet as fellow high school seniors before they meet as rivals on the football field, the Rotary clubs of Needham and Wellesley hosted their annual pre-Thanksgiving game dinner Monday night in Wellesley. As Rotarians mingled, the teams kept a polite distance as they navigated the buffet and sat at tables about a huddle’s distance apart.

“My mom thought we might have to talk to them,” said a Wellesley senior. Said another, “No way. We don’t mix.” Needham players were no more eager to reach across the line of scrimmage. “This is a group sport,” said Needham linebacker Connor Dempsey. “But it’s nice to be with the other Needham seniors.”

Despite the tribal talk, the high school football players, all seniors from Needham and Wellesley high schools, were amiable guests and mirror images at Monday night’s dinner. Everyone appeared in dress clothing, well-scrubbed. The only way to tell a Needham player from a Wellesley player was the color of the football jacket. And every player wore his jacket.

While not as long a tradition as the game itself — well accepted as the oldest public high school football rivalry in the country — the Rotary Club event goes back decades. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the seniors from both communities before the season ending matchup. 

To attend was to step back in time. “Ladies and gentlemen,” began the evening’s host from the Wellesley Rotarians. “Well, we may be all gentlemen.” The two or three women and one enthusiastic girl attending raised their hands, and the host looked relieved. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.”

Attendees from each of the tables introduced themselves. The (winning) Wellesley class of 1993 had organized a table, announcing they were Wellesley coach Corey Levin’s first Super Bowl winners.

The Needham coaches — all but one graduates of Needham High — had been to the dinner as players. “I came when I was about 10,” said Greg Hoffmeister, whose son Tate was there as one of the Needham seniors. “My father was a Rotarian, so I came every year. Then I came as a player. Now I’m back as a parent and a coach.” He paused. “I guess my whole life has revolved around the Rotary Club football dinner.”

Needham’s head coach, Doug Kopcso (Needham ‘99), recognized the unity of the experience. He told the audience about the importance of breaking bread with your rivals, of carrying on tradition, and of playing PeeWee football with one of Wellesley’s coaches. “I blocked; he gained a million yards.” 

“Go out and compete hard,” he urged the players from both squads. “You’re going to remember this week for the rest of your lives.” The alumni at every table proved his point.

The NHS bonfire celebrated seniors and fall athletes with performances by the cheer team, the dance team and the Bomb Squad/ Credit: Luke Sokolosky

Girls best Wellesley in Powderpuff for third straight year

by Frederica Saylor Lalonde

Powderpuff team after victory over Wellesley / Credit: Sam Sherman

The dreary day did not deter the spirits of the 108 Needham High School senior girls who stormed Memorial Field for the annual Powderpuff flag football game. 

One in a series of events leading up to the longstanding Needham-Wellesley game played on Thanksgiving Day, girls from both schools faced each other to vie for the trophy and bragging rights. 

The hill was packed with rain-soaked spectators, and students lined the perimeter of the field to see who would bring it home. For the third year in a row, Needham was victorious. 

It was close, with Wellesley holding a 3-0 lead until early in the fourth quarter. With less than 10 minutes left to play, Needham’s Lilly Schmaltz found a lane and ran for a touchdown. Maya Dixon kicked the extra point for a 7-3 lead, and Wellesley was unable to recover. 

Lily Schmalz runs the ball / Credit: Sam Sherman

“The girls played unbelievably well,” said Needham Police officer Joe Brienze, head coach for the team. “It was way more physical than it was last year.” 

Officers from each town’s police departments help coach the girls teams. This year, Needham fielded the largest group it’s ever had. Coaches worked with the girls for three weeks to prepare for the game. 

“They went from not really understanding the game of football to being able to run 11 people on offense, 11 people on defense and special teams within three weeks,” said Brienze. “I’m confident some of them could play for the Needham boys’ football team.”

“We’ve been practicing really hard and we’ve been doing really well in practice, we’ve been super consistent, so I felt confident in our team,” said Schmaltz, who recently signed to play lacrosse at the U.S. Naval Academy. “People consistently showed up (to practice), which was really good for the team, and we worked really hard. And we all knew we wanted it.” 

 

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