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‘A loss of words’; Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield cancel century-old Turkey Bowl amid surging COVID-19 cases

There was a hushed silence in the Calvert Hall auditorium on Saturday as the assembled football players were told that the Turkey Bowl — one of the nation’s longest-running Catholic school rivalries — would not be held for the first time in a century.

The game against Loyola Blakefield, which has been played continuously since 1920 — and on Thanksgiving since 1929 — had survived the Great Depression and two world wars.

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Perhaps because of that resilient history, players and coaches had hoped and believed the schools would figure out a way to stage the Thanksgiving rite during the coronavirus pandemic, even if it had to be played with few or no fans.

But the schools jointly announced Saturday that “this treasured tradition” would not continue this season because of Baltimore County’s limits on social gatherings designed to curb the spread of the virus, which is surging in the state and nation.

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If sports teaches lessons about life, this was a particularly difficult one for the players, their schools and alumni to digest.

“We were supposed to have practice at 9:00,” said Calvert Hall senior quarterback Amir Jenkins, who won two previous Turkey Bowls and considers the matchup unique because “everybody is locked in” and the winner receives a shiny silver trophy of a football.

“Coach [Josh Ward] said there is no Turkey Bowl and no more season. It was just like, a loss of words. Nobody wanted to say anything,” Jenkins said. “Even though we’re in a terrible time, we still would have come together to keep alive this tradition.”

Baltimore County currently limits outdoors gatherings to a maximum of 25 people. Even if fans or media were not permitted to attend, the players alone would have surpassed the limit.

“When you live in the 2020 COVID world, you kind of prepare for anything.,” said Loyola Blakefield coach Anthony Zehyoue.

Still, Zehyoue said: “Even when we got the news, it was still gut-wrenching.”

Loyola Blakefield played its last game of the season Saturday, defeating Saint Mary’s, 7-6, in Annapolis. The game was permitted because Anne Arundel allows certain outdoor events if organizers are on hand to ensure precautions are taken.

“We kind of savored it” when the game ended, Zehyoue said. “We stayed on the field a little longer than normal.”

To accommodate fan interest, past Turkey Bowls were played at such large neutral sites as M&T Bank Stadium and Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.

Thursday’s game had been set for a smaller venue — Calvert Hall’s Paul Angelo Russo Stadium — on Thursday at 10 a.m. It was to be televised on WMAR-2.

Leading up to the game, the teams had been taking precautions they hoped would enable them to play. The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to allow its fall programs to pursue independent schedules Oct. 14

“I spend more time at practice screaming, `Hey, get your mask on,’ than coaching,” Calvert Hall’s Ward said before the cancellation. “I think we’re the only team in the MIAA that’s wearing almost double protection. Our athletic training staff and administration bought all our players the shut plastic visors that go over the face; then they have to wear gaiters around their neck.”

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Although the series between the two schools officially started in 1920, the rivalry goes back even further. They first played each other in 1899, with a crowd of some 1,500 coming to Patterson Park to watch Calvert Hall win, 6-0.

“There is an intense rivalry between the two teams,” The Sun reported, perhaps not realizing how prescient it was being.

Loyola Blakefield leads the Turkey Bowl series at 49-43-8.

The schools, which issued a joint statement about the game, did not take issue with the county’s guidelines.

“With the issuance of the Executive Order restricting gatherings and high school sports contests in Baltimore County, we sincerely regret that this treasured tradition will not be held in 2020,” wrote Calvert Hall President John Kane and Loyola Blakefield President Anthony I. Day. “We respect the efforts of Baltimore County government leadership to safeguard its citizens and we share a desire to do our part to avoid contributing to the soaring COVID-19 metrics in our region.”

The pandemic has also halted the City-Poly football game, which had been played for 131 straight years.

It is possible that some football games could be rescheduled for this spring.

Jenkins, the Calvert Hall quarterback, plans to play next season at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. After the Turkey Bowl was abruptly canceled Saturday he said he and his teammates wanted to take the field together anyway.

“We didn’t practice. The athletic director and athletic trainer let us play 7-on-7 one more time,” he said.

Rich Scherr contributed to this article.

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