The Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl between the Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield football teams will be played at Towson University next week and the City-Poly game might also have to move from M&T Bank Stadium some years, because the grass field can’t take the wear and tear of a high school game and be ready for the Ravens to play days later.
In 2016, the Ravens switched from artificial turf to a natural grass field and the state football championships moved to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis after a 14-year run at M&T Bank Stadium. Four games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday were too much to allow for the field to be ready for the Ravens to play Sunday or even a week later.
At the time, Kevin Byrne, the Ravens senior vice president for public and community relations, said the Turkey Bowl and City-Poly games would continue to be played there, but that Ravens officials would reassess that decision as they became more familiar with what the grass field could handle.
City and Poly played their 129th rivalry game on Nov. 4 at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens had two road games and a bye after that, giving the grounds crew 23 days to get the field in prime condition for the next home game on the Monday night after Thanksgiving. They wouldn’t have enough time to repair the field for the Nov. 27 game against the Houston Texans if the Turkey Bowl was played just five days earlier.
Byrne said the grass was replaced on the entire field after the City-Poly game and that it typically takes about two weeks for the heavy sod to be ready for a Ravens game. Last year, the team replaced part of the field during a two-week period with no Ravens game.
“The decision to host high school games will be determined on a year-to-year basis depending on our schedule, on the Ravens’ schedule,” Byrne said. “For example, this year’s Calvert Hall-Loyola Thanksgiving Day game will not be played at the stadium, because we’re playing Monday night. This is our second year on the grass field, so if bad rain came with a high school game and it chopped up the field, we would need time to repair the field to an NFL standard.”
NFL schedules are announced by the league office in the second or third week of April, so that’s when the decision for next year’s game will be made.
“We love the tradition of Baltimore high schools playing at the pro stadium,” Byrne said, “and would like to see it continue as much as our schedule would allow.”
This is the third time in seven years that the Turkey Bowl will be played at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium. The City-Poly game has been at M&T Bank Stadium since it opened after spending two years at Morgan State in the transition from Memorial Stadium.
Poly athletic director Phil Thompson said Poly and City officials will meet again soon and should have a contingency plan by January. Two options being considered are Morgan State and Johns Hopkins.
For Calvert Hall and Loyola, moving to Johnny Unitas Stadium for the 98th Turkey Bowl has its advantages, especially the close proximity to the schools that are both in Towson and the stadium’s smaller size, which makes the crowd seem larger. Last year’s game drew 8,340 fans. However, it is disappointing for the players who enjoy having an NFL-like experience.
“It’s a great facility,” Calvert Hall athletic director Lou Eckerl said of Johnny Unitas Stadium. “It’s closer, the crowd is closer and we pack that place. It would be a full stadium that we would play in. The biggest drawback would be that our guys don’t get to play in an NFL stadium. That’s just awesome. It’s such a fantastic venue for a high school kid to play in.”
Loyola first-year coach Anthony Zehyoue was a Dons assistant coach for the past two years and he has mixed feelings about the change.
“They get really excited when they walk into the stadium,” he said of his players. “They always go out on the field way before warmups ever start. They just want to soak it up that they get to play on the same field as legends play on, so from that aspect, it’s a disappointment for them. But Towson has a wonderful stadium. I think it will be a little more raucous, too, because with the size of the stadium, the crowd might be on you more. All in all, it’ll be a fun day. I don’t think it will change the rivalry at all.”