Football’s longest-running rivalry marks 125 years on the field

William Penn Charter School’s 54-7 victory over Germantown Academy was more than just a win, it was about history.

Saturday’s game marked the 125th year in what’s considered to be football’s longest standing rivalry.

The Penn Charter Quakers rolled up a total of 478 offensive yards for the win, setting the rivalry’s record at 81-33-11. Penn Charter ended the season with a 5-5 record.

Penn Charter’s head coach Jeff Humble said the high scoring win was unusual, given scores in recent history.

“The last four years average score was about a three points win,” he said. “It was kind of a snowball [this year]. It’s hard to bounce back from that.”

Humble said Germantown Academy’s play was not reflected in the score.

But it was Penn Charter’s junior running back Eric Berger, who carried the ball six times and racked up 168 yards and three touchdowns, who ended the game as the most valuable player and recipient of the Geis Award.

“[Winning the Geis Award] is awesome,” said Berger, holding the massive trophy and allowing past recipients to search for their engraved names. “But I could care less, as long as we beat Germantown Academy. That’s all that matters.”

A historic tradition

The rivalry runs deep, but head coach Jeff Humble said he told players to focus on the history.

“[This game is] such a big deal,” said coach Jeff Humble. “But I said, ‘you’re going down in history no matter what.'”

The title of football’s oldest rivalry actually goes to Norwich Free Academy and New London High School in Connecticut, which beat Penn Charter and Germantown Academy’s rivalry by 12 years. But the Connecticut schools suspended play in the 1940s due to World War I, making Penn Charter and Germantown Academy the longest continuous rivalry in American football history.

Dee Nason, who graduated in 1958 from Germantown Academy, traveled from Littleton, CO, to take part in the historic tradition.

“We’ve been coming down for these games since the 70s,” said Nason, who reunited with six of his 29 classmates at the game. “It’s a wonderful tradition. We’re very proud of this school.”

Nason said he travels across the country for the games because to him, it’s a reunion. 

“You can see a lot of people around here talking and not watching the game,” he said.

A day shared by alumni, current students and the community

Nason recalled that when he went to Germantown Academy, the schools were located just a few blocks from each other, and students would walk to the hosting school to attend the game.

But Germantown Academy outgrew the small area and relocated to its current location at 340 Morris Rd. in Fort Washington. The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf is currently housed at Germantown Academy’s old location.

Nason was a swimmer, but was also one of the then all boys academy’s three cheerleaders for football games.

Penn Charter’s director of admissions, Steve Bonnie, graduated from the school in 1966, and said the rivalry is something alumni talk about for years.

“At the Hall of Fame dinner, part of what the inductees would talk about is Germantown Academy,” he said. “It’s a memorable thing.”

Bonnie said he also enjoys seeing the enthusiasm of current students for festivities throughout the week before the game, such as hall decorating, spirit days where students get to dress in themes and a pep rally involving the entire district.

“They have a lot of fun,” he said.

Penn Charter junior Kevin Kelly said he enjoys following the Quakers more than the Eagles.

“It can be your first year at PC or you could have been an alum from ’45,” he said. “But you all share in this day.”

Some alumni were tweeting about the game from college and Humble said several former football players text messaged him with well wishes.

Sparking friendships  

Both communities liken the rivalry to either the Army and Navy games or Harvard and Yale.

“You could say it’s like Harvard and Yale, but it’s been around longer,” Kelly said.

Marty Weiss, whose son plays for Germantown Academy, said the fact that the schools sometimes share community and family members makes the rivalry a little less personal.

“It’s like the Army/Navy rivalry,” he said. “Two teams want to beat each other, and in a year could be fighting a war together.”

Alec Lorraine, a Germantown Academy 2010 alum and former football player, agrees. 

At his Lehigh University fraternity, he was playfully shoved by another student who went to Penn Charter. The two quickly became friends.

“There’s kind of a little unspoken rivalry between us,” Lorraine said. “But we’re friends because of that.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal