WALLINGFORD, Conn — The day before Thanksgiving is often billed as the busiest travel day of the year. But, not many leave Wallingford on that day because of a tradition unlike any other across the country.
This year marks the golden anniversary of a football game for which the town shuts down to watch seniors from Wallingford's two high schools square off.
And those players are girls.
Senior girls from Sheehan and Lyman Hall High Schools practice for two months to play one game.
"It means everything. I love it," said Sheehan senior Madison DiPasquale.
But this flag football (or powder puff as some call it) match, isn't just a game.
"There is no other sport, there is no other event that allowed me the opportunity to connect with 125 of my teammates, my classmates," said Heather Dorsey, who played for the 1989 Lyman Hall team.
The winner earns bragging rights for a year.
"I feel like it’s because like most other towns don’t really do this stuff in our state," said Lyman Hall senior Isabella Deek. "So, it’s just special."
"My year the score was 6 to 2 and I scored the touchdown and I got called for the safety," said 1978 Lyman Hall quarterback Cherlyn Paul-Gill, with a smile.
The aim of the Samaha Bowl, named after the game's founder, late athletics administrator Judy Samaha, was to provide more sports opportunities for high school girls.
"She would stand outside senior court outside the gymnasium every day and the people she would talk to were not athletes," said Carol Morris, a member of the 1976 Sheehan team.
One of the key components to the success of the Samaha Bowl through the years is the fact that many of these girls, who play in this game, have never played any other sports.
"I was in the marching band so I didn’t do sports, but that’s what makes the game so great is that you got these students and these classmates from different groups of the school just coming together," said Meaghan Whalen, who played for Lyman Hall in 2011.
In its 50th year, this game is annually the town's second most attended event, after the Fourth of July fireworks.
"I am always, always – as I walk down that hill, and I come on the field, then I see the amount of people here – I’m blown away every single time," said Sheehan Head Coach Cheryl Colwick.
"This is a crazy year, like, 50th anniversary and the energy is like out of this world," said Ella Sirois, a Lyman Hall senior before her team scrimmaged the faculty recently.
This day before turkey tussle, which annually draws over 3,000 fans, is already sold out and is also a family affair.
"My whole family played and my siblings actually went to Sheehan," said Keera Reed, a Lyman Hall senior. "So, I think it’s really fun to feel like I’m playing against them."
Players have often told their coaches this game means more than even senior prom, especially if they beat their friends from across town.
"At the end of the day, it’s going to be that I want to win because you know we’re playing on our turf and everyone wants to take home the trophy," said Sheehan senior Jordan Dorsey.
There's no tradition like this anywhere across the country, and Wallingford is okay with that.
"I’ve been looking forward to this since before middle school so the fact that it’s like the 50th and it’s so important to everyone," said DiPasquale. "It just means so much.
One thing's certain about the Samaha Bowl: everyone involved scores a lifetime of memories.
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