EAST ORANGE / NEWARK, NJ — Due to the dangers of COVID-19, what was supposed to be the 109th Thanksgiving game between East Orange and Barringer high schools, one of the oldest rivalries in the country, turned into a virtual presentation this year. Viewers were able to tune in live for the East Orange Old Guard Virtual Telethon Ceremony, which took place Nov. 25 via Facebook.
“The East Orange vs. Barringer game started in 1897 and at that time, Barringer High School was called Newark High School,” East Orange Old Guard President Stephen Shaw said on Nov. 27 while discussing the longstanding rivalry. “In 1907, the Newark Board of Education changed the name to Barringer High School. Each year, the game would either happen at East Orange Morten’s Stadium or Newark’s School Stadium; they would alternate. Ten thousand people would come to watch the games; that’s how big it was.”
Other changes came when the East Orange High School Panthers became the East Orange Campus High School Jaguars. Regardless of team name, the East Orange Old Guard, established in 1922, is a nonprofit dedicated to keeping the rivalry alive.
“There was an alumni football player from Barringer and an alumni football player from East Orange, and they decided to have a dinner. They invited all the alumni football players, and the dinner was very successful. That’s how the Old Guard first started,” Shaw said. “It has been ongoing ever since, except there was a delay in the Old Guard in the Barringer vs. East Orange game because their schedules had changed. Due to that, it stopped for 18 years and then it was restarted again by Van Johnson as president. I was later asked to take over as president in 2017.”
Back when it first started, the Old Guard held a dinner every year on the night before the Thanksgiving game. But some changes were inevitable.
“I had three things that I wanted to accomplish,” Shaw said about becoming president. “My main objective was to incorporate the East Orange Jaguars into the East Orange Old Guard because I felt that they would continue playing the game and continue the tradition of the football game, so I thought it would be appropriate of them to be a part of the Old Guard. Second, I wanted it to become a nonprofit organization so we can fundraise and fund money into the organization. Next was to become a part of the East Orange community, where we would be able to help the young men who are playing football get more involved in the community and give back. Women began to participate in the dinners, which led to the first female secretary in the late ’70s. Two women are now a part of the Old Guard, as a secretary and a treasurer.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Shaw said that the organization knew there might not be a game this year and already planned not to hold the annual dinner.
“I came in with the idea to have a virtual program in the same order and agenda we would have the dinner,” Shaw said. “We wanted to bring something to the community and those who would have taken part in coming to the game and still have something for players. We get to carry on our legacy of the annual dinner, but instead of having dinner, it would be virtual.”
During the virtual ceremony, East Orange High School alumnus Abdul Mani Hassan ’72 spoke about influencing young men.
“Many of you look at this tradition as to who will be the winner and who will have bragging rights, but this contest and tradition is about more than that,” Hassan said in the presentation. “It’s about molding, shaping these young athletes, developing them and preparing them for the next level in their young life.”
Daryl White, who played on the 1968 and ’69 state championship team for the East Orange Panthers, said his fondest memory of the rivalry dates to when he was 8 years old.
“My household Thanksgiving was planned around the East Orange vs. Barringer football game,” he said. “It just inspired me and made me want to play for East Orange so badly; you had to play for East Orange. Keep playing hard and keep this rivalry alive.”
James Oliver, who played four years on the varsity Panthers football team, serving as captain of the 1963 state championship team, also took a stroll down memory lane.
“The East Orange/Barringer football game that takes place every Thanksgiving Day was something to behold,” Oliver said during the ceremony. “I’d like to wish both teams the best of luck and continued success in keeping the honor and tradition of the Old Guard and the game alive.”