Get ready for the East vs. West Homecoming Football Game
November 22, 2017
The East Cougars will be going head to head with the West Lions on Wednesday, November 22, in the annual Homecoming Football Game. Check out Sports’ in-depth coverage on the game to learn more about the history of the rivalry between the two schools and the players. And, of course, don’t forget to cast your prediction on who you think will win!
The Homecoming Game is East’s chance to claim a victory
The two cross-town rivals are once again pinned against each other in the 49th annual Cherry Hill East vs. Cherry Hill West football game on the night before Thanksgiving. The coveted prize behind the rivalry, the Al DiBart Memorial Trophy (more commonly known as “The Boot”), will reside on the winning school’s side of town, proving its team’s superiority until the next year. The two schools will go to battle to prove themselves not just the better football team, but for bragging rights among the town and to etch their names into Cherry Hill history. Dating back to their first match in 1969, the two teams have a long history full of on-field hatred and school pride.
With East on a current losing streak, a win against West would be huge for the team and would stop a recent onslaught by the Lions upon the Cougars.
Varsity Head Coach Tom Coen said, “Wins have been hard to come by this season, so a win would mean an awful lot. We have been at times close to getting things done, so if we can eliminate mistakes I believe we can come out of the game with our first victory.”
As the season winds down, practices start to seem more and more tiring. But once the week of East vs. West comes, the locker room is a buzz.
Varsity player Roberto Sul (‘19) said, “The week before the West game, practice is so different. There is so much excitement in the air. So much energy in the air. It’s definitely different than a normal game.”
All former and current East players know the importance of the game and the rich history behind it. No matter what the team’s record is going into the game, the players go into it as if the records were 0-0.
The history of the rivalry between Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West
The Philadelphia Inquirer describes it as “one of the best rivalries in South Jersey.” The history between the two high schools has existed since the opening of East in January of 1967. Through athletics, activities and academics, the schools have competed to reign supreme above the other (if only for a few days). There is no longer-lasting rivalry then their football game on Thanksgiving, or currently the night before. During the forty-nine-year span of this game’s existence, both former Cougar and Lion greats as well as great teams have taken part in this historic series.
Starting in 1969, the two teams had the inaugural game at Cherry Hill West. This did not only mark the beginning of the rivalry, but also of the symbol of victory for years to come, “the Boot”. The trophy is named after Alexander DiBartolomeo, “Al DiBart”, a former West teacher and an East Principal. This game marked an era of dominance among Cherry Hill East football that would routinely punish their opponents, especially their “older brother” West.
East dominated football in Cherry Hill, losing its first game in 1974, but going on to win 26 out of the first 29 games against the Lions. Throughout this stretch, East had multiple South Jersey Champions and All-State athletes.
In 1982, after a few early-season losses, East went on a tear through South Jersey, becoming one of the most dangerous teams around. The team was led by an aggressive-minded offensive and defensive line, anchored by All-American Stan Clayton and upcoming star running back Freshman Tom Coen (the first freshman ever to start and the current head coach). East beat West 35-14. The rest of the Tom Coen Years were met with defensive-based games as the two teams combined for 39 points in the next three games, East winning 2 of them.
“It’s very big. It culminates the season. It has great tradition and rivalry, and the winner here can head into the offseason feeling pretty good about themselves,” said Coen about his current team and past experience in the rivalry.
A year after Coen’s graduation, in 1986, East had an extremely talented senior class that was locked into beating West for revenge of its sophomore loss. Every senior came out to the coin toss with his face painted in camouflage, led by star WR Erik Radbill (the current East baseball coach). Radbill finished the season with 40 catches, one of the highest in program history. As well as having Radbill, QB Cliff Foley became the first player to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season. East went on to win 17-0. This began the Foley Era, three brothers considered East football royalty.
As Cliff headed out, younger brother Glenn began a dynasty of his own. In 1987-1988, the team was full of D-1 and All-State players. In 1987 East dominated 34-0 and the following year Glenn became the second player to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season while setting South Jersey records for touchdown passes. They won that game 35-16.
The dynasty continued in 1989 when the youngest brother Kevin Foley led the team to a 14-0 victory against West. In 1990, Kevin became the third players to throw for 1,000 yards in a season, following his brothers, while winning 38-22. Throughout the ‘90s, East continued to dominate, winning 8 out of the 10 games.
Although throughout the 2000s East has had dominant running backs, including Al Valentino and Mike Drake, the games were won by West, winning 7 out of the 9 (the first time West won a decade). West’s Claron Johnson ran for over 1,400 yards in 2005, setting West’s single-season rushing record.
In the last four games, West has gone 4-0, making it West’s longest winning streak in series history. East, on the other hand, has faced a lack of success in recent past.
“A win is so important because we haven’t won in a while, and it’d be cool to bring the boot back,” said Nick Gazzola (‘19) about the upcoming game. East has felt a dent in its esteemed football resume prior to the 2000s.
East is winning the series 31-17 with its longest winning streak being 9. It won 26 out of the first 29 games, but this game could tell the future of the rivalry.
The game through the eyes of East and West alumni
Tradition. A word that is used throughout all sports in a countless number of ways. Look at the NFL, for example. On Thanksgiving, it is inevitable to see the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions play on their home turf. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day every year dating back to 1934 and the Cowboys have played every year dating back to 1966. In Cherry Hill, the Cougars and the Lions play an annual football game. Although the two teams play every year, the rivalry has had many continuities and many changes.
When East teacher and Assistant Football Coach Joseph Cucinotti went to high school from 1997-2001, he played defensive back and running back for the Cougars. Playing against West was something that he looked forward to throughout his high school career, especially during his senior year. He and his friends on the team played football against or with the seniors at West outside of school, which made the game a little extra special.
“Finishing our football careers together was nice, especially since we won,” said Cucinotti.
Cucinotti noted that there are many differences that he notices now than when he was in his playing days. One of the biggest differences was when the game actually was. As a player, the game was played on Thanksgiving morning. The whole community was off from work and they were all excited to go watch the game.
“Creating an exciting ambiance for people to witness and join in on a day that is typically relaxing were the most awesome moments of my playing days,” said Cucinotti.
Now that the game is played on the night before Thanksgiving under the lights, it creates a whole new atmosphere.
Ms. Susan Nicolazzo-Dollarton (‘89), a math teacher at East, was a cheerleader during her days at East. Preparing for the East-West game and cheering during the game was something that she looked forward to all year. Going to the game was the big thing to do back then and the whole community came out to the game. Similar to how it is today, Spirit Week ended with the anticipation and excitement of the football game.
The night before the big game, Nicolazzo-Dollarton and the rest of the cheerleaders went around to all of the senior varsity football players houses and decorated them. They also decorated the locker room for the players, a tradition that does not exist today.
“There was definitely a different camaraderie and school spirit [back then],” said Nicolazzo-Dollarton.
As a teacher, Nicolazzo-Dollarton has returned back to West to watch the game, including when she was a class advisor for many years. The excitement was different when she was in high school.
“We live in a very hectic lifestyle… and not many people are committed to being a part of the school community…” said Nicolazzo-Dollarton.
Although the excitement may not be the same level as before, the game still holds importance to both current and past students, especially for Mr. Greg DeWolf, a business teacher at East but a 1998 West graduate.
When DeWolf was in high school, like Nicolazzo-Dollarton, the game followed Spirit Week. They made floats to bring to the homecoming football game and held a huge pep rally the day before.
In addition to going to the game in high school, DeWolf continues to go to the game, especially during his college days.
“It [the game] was kind of like a huge hangout for the young alumni,” said DeWolf.
“Hopefully one day Cherry Hill East gets to host a home game,” said DeWolf who, although a graduate from West, now roots for the Cougars to take home the win.
For the teams, the excitement still is the same. It can turn a bad season into a better one, knowing that defeat of the other team tastes so sweet.
“It’s the biggest game of the season. Whatever happened during the season doesn’t matter. The records don’t count, the records are 0-0. It’s East vs. West,” said Roberto Sul (‘19), a member of the East football team.
The game for one night pins the town of Cherry Hill into two, but also brings the town together. Families and friends come out and support the both teams.
Just like professional sports, tradition sweeps over Cherry Hill on Thanksgiving. For just one game during every season, the Cougars and Lions get to battle it out. The tradition, although it has changed over the years, stills holds a special place in East and West alumni’s heart.
Check out the Eastside Sports’ Editor’s Predictions and feel free to cast your own!
Jacob Kernis (‘20)-
Both teams are not finding success this season, but due to injuries for key players on the Cougars, the Lions will take the Boot back to the West side for the fifth straight year winning 30-14.
Sophie Levine (‘19)-
Although both teams have not had the best season, the “Boot” game should be an exciting one. I predict that the Cherry Hill West Lions will win the game 35-21 in a hard fought battle from the Cougars.
Adam Dashevsky (‘19)-
East’s offense will be able to expose West’s defensive liability and reach the endzone four times during the game. The Cougars will take back the Boot winning 28-21.