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A Game, A Reunion

Players Catch, Friends Catch Up As Hartford Public, Weaver Compete On Holiday

By FULVIO CATIVO, Courant Staff Writer

November 23, 2007

The annual Thanksgiving Day football game between Weaver and Hartford Public high schools, fans say, is about more than just football. It is equal parts reunion, celebration and community gathering.

So even a cold, foggy Thanksgiving morning couldn't keep hundreds from Dillon Stadium on Thursday to meet old friends, catch up with former classmates and watch the longtime rivals go at it once more on the gridiron.

For more than 80 meetings, this intracity rivalry has pit friends against friends, neighbors against neighbors and, in some cases, relatives against relatives.

Bernard Lawrence, a 1996 Hartford Public graduate clad in his alma mater's blue and white, joined old friends on the wooden western stands of Dillon Stadium to catch up, reminisce and watch the latest installment of the series, which Hartford Public led 42-37-4 heading into this year.

Lawrence, a former running back for Hartford Public, remembers the significance of the rivalry, but said he cherishes the annual tradition now as a means to reconnect with longtime friends like former teammate and fellow 1996 grad Carlos Antunes.

"It's the only time we get to see each other," said Lawrence, 30, a city resident and correction officer.

Antunes said that sometimes the game's biggest draw is not on the field, but in the stands, where coaches, teachers and students reconnect with their school communities.

"You're not even watching the game sometimes," Antunes said.

On Thursday, however, eyes were fixed on the playing field as the annual rivalry gained added importance. Weaver, needing a win to secure a spot in the state playoffs, shut out the rival Owls, 19-0.

For fans at the game, the elevated stakes meant living and dying with every missed pass and penalty flag. Fans showered the players and coaches with loud 'ooohs' and 'ahhhs' for every spectacular play or hit, and others shouted words of encouragement and motivation from the stands.

Across the field from Lawrence and his friends, Myna Walton, a preschool teacher and Weaver graduate, joined former classmates, teachers and Weaver fans donning green and white to cheer on her beloved Beavers.

The Thanksgiving matchup of Weaver and Hartford Public is more than a tradition, Walton said: She has attended every game the two schools have played since she graduated in 1981.

"We come here in fellowship," said Walton, a Lebanon Street resident, pointing to and greeting old friends and classmates.

Among those friends was Lancelot Edwards, a state parole officer, 1979 Weaver grad and former defensive end for the Beavers.

Edwards explained that the game is sometimes about more than a score.

"We grew up together. We come together for bragging rights for the city," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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