At Martin Luther King High the Thanksgiving tradition isn’t about turkey, it’s about pig skin.
Since 1976, the public school has met its neighborhood rival Germantown High that Thursday morning for the season’s final football game.
The match means little for stat sheets – the playoffs and the regular season are over. Instead, it’s all about school pride.
“If we win, they get to brag,” said Cougars assistant coach Dave Dumin. “It’s as simple as that.”
Bringing home those bragging rights isn’t taken lightly. The two schools are located less than two miles from one another and students regularly cross each other’s paths in the neighborhood.
To help fuel its football team to victory, MLK holds a big pep rally the day before the game.
On Monday, the school’s gym was buzzing with activity as students made their final preparations for the performance. The drum line tightened up its cadences. The step team tweaked its choreography. And students auditioned to perform in the rally’s talent showcase.
Directing traffic was Athletic Director Marge Stinson, who’s been at the school for nearly 40 years. She said aside from the music and the cheerleading uniforms, little has changed about the rally, or the annual parade that starts at the school’s Stenton Avenue address and ends at Germantown’s Benjamin Johnson Field in Cedarbrook.
The game day procession is such a strong part of school and neighborhood tradition that Stinson sees it as a bridge to connect students to the past. “I try to tell kids you’re walking in the same shoes the kids walked in 35 years ago,” she said.
Still, tucked into these pre-game proceedings are a number of firsts.
During the pep rally, the school’s dance team – organized by social studies and psychology teacher Marissa Koerbler – will make its debut in front of a crowd expected to exceed 300.
Senior Clayton Wallace, who was charged with choreographing the group’s inaugural performance, said the two and a half minute routine should go smoothly as long as everyone remembers to have fun.
“But if it doesn’t go well, we tried our best and we put on a show,” he said.
Freshman Joilynn Tapps hopes she can wow the crowd when she sings her rendition of “At Last” by Etta James. While Tapps has performed in front of friends, the pep rally will be the first time she’ll face a large chunk of the student body.
She said she expects she’ll be nervous, but never planned on backing down. It’s her dream to be a professional singer.
“I want to see what it feels like to be a star,” said Tapps. “If you don’t go out there, nobody will know you.”
On game day, senior Patrice Venable will make her first appearance as the school’s mascot, the Golden Cougar – a fact not everyone in the school knows.
Venable said despite the sweat from covering herself in the stuffy fur suit, she’ll be ready to motivate the team Thursday.
“I just got to have the energy to be up there all day,” said Venable. She said she plans on channeling the silly side of her personality on the field.
Venable and the rest of the students are hoping for a Cougar victory, after long last. The team hasn’t beaten Germantown since 2006.
For Stinson the goal for the day is a bit more lasting. “I just want them to have a good memory when they think back,” she said.
The Thanksgiving Day game between Germantown and Martin Luther King starts at 10:00 a.m. at Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Stadium on the 1100 block of Sedgwick Street.