PORTLAND, Maine -- (NEWS CENTER) - People in Portland are wondering if they could lose a century-old Thanksgiving tradition.
Thursday marked the 105th year of the big high school football game between Portland and Deering high schools., which is the only Thanksgiving Day game still played in Maine.
The game used to attract large crowds, with longtime fans talking of five thousand people or more attending the game. However, the past few years have seen far lower attendance, with a reported 2015 crowd of just 500 people. Game officials on Thursday said they wouldn’t have this year’s count until Friday, but it appeared to be roughly the same size, and there were large areas of empty seats in the stands on both sides of the field.
Athletic directors at the two high schools say they’ve started talking about the problem. The small crowd sometimes doesn’t bring in enough money to even cover the costs of the game. The AD’s say they hope to keep playing on Thanksgiving, and people who did attend today’s game said they hope the tradition can be saved.
“I think there’s a misconception we’re trying to cancel the Thanksgiving game. That is not the case” said Portland High’s Rob O’Leary.. “What we’re trying to do is breathe some life back into it. And if there’s no life, the discussion needs to happen, what do we do?”
“I’m just hoping people will come and hope this isn’t the last year,” said Cynthia Young, a Portland high graduate. Young was joined by her college-student son Jayvon, who said he played on the Portland team while in high school.
Cynthia Young went on to say that, ”People love this and it brings us together one time of the year to really support each other, support the team so I hope it will continue.”
Peter Gribben, who has been the PA announcer for the Thanksgiving game for the past 51 years, said the schools may need to be patient.
“I don’t know, I think it will take a couple years, they’ll have to hang with it for a while,” he said.
Portland high graduate Thomas Bore said he travels all the way from Florida each year for the game. Bore said this year’s contest was his 60th turkey day game. Bore said he has seen the crowd diminish over the years and shares the concerns.
“Things have changed, but it still means a lot because its Portland – Deering,” he said.
The school athletic directors said there will be a game in 2017, but they hope to have a stakeholders group start meeting to find ways to increase attendance.