Saturday, June 01, 2002

Closing St. Saviour

School's out, but tradition moves on

        When a tradition dies, young kids cry over what they'll miss while old men hoist a glass to their field of dreams.

        Tears and toasts flowed through Deer Park and Rossmoyne this week. St. Saviour School lost the battle of declining enrollment and closed Friday.

        After 55 years, school at St. Saviour was out forever. And the 40-year tradition of the Turkey Bowl was dead.

        For four decades, the football teams of St. Saviour and its down-the-street rival, St. John the Evangelist, battled on Thanksgiving morning. To the victors went a lifetime's worth of bragging rights and the honor of taking home the Turkey Bowl trophy.

Fierce competition

        The rivalry was intense. And evenly matched. Both grade schools sit in close-knit neighborhoods of modest homes and a village-like sense of community.

        “Even if you didn't grow up here or go to school at St. Saviour, people made you feel like you belonged,” said David Chachoff, president of St. Saviour's athletic boosters.

        Scenes from the Turkey Bowl — bonfires, mascots, generations of alumni at game's end going home to mom's for Thanksgiving dinner — conjured images of an almost mythical America painted by Norman Rockwell.

        “That rivalry was like UC vs. X,” said St. John's former baseball coach, Tom Wiebell.

        “Just talking about it still raises my hackles and I graduated from St. John in 1956.”

        Tom was relaxing at Chicken on the Run, the local pub where fans of both schools gathered before and after the Turkey Bowl.

        Before Thanksgiving, Ross Bachman, the Chicken's owner, would always divide his place into St. Saviour and St. John zones. Borders were defined by duct tape in the schools' colors.

        “St. Saviour's closing hasn't sunk in yet,” Ross said. “I don't know if I'm even going to need any duct tape this Thanksgiving.”

        Pat Flaherty, capable of claiming, “I'm the only coach to win a Turkey Bowl — in the '80s — at both schools,” piped up:

        “If there's no Turkey Bowl this Thanksgiving, we'll drive to the field, have a drink and make believe someone's playing.”

        No need to pretend, Coach.

        Plans call for St. John to play Reading's Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for the right to carry off the three-foot, six-inch Turkey Bowl trophy.

        “Some of our players are going to Sacred Heart,” said Kevin Harris, St. Saviours' football commissioner.

        The trophy goes to the Reading school as soon as a jeweler engraves the 2001 Turkey Bowl score: St. Saviour 22, St. John 16. In overtime.

        “There's plenty of room on the trophy for more scores,” Kevin said, “and a new tradition.”

        He admited he's “hurting deep inside about the school's closing.

        “But the kids are taking it pretty well.”

        Yes and no.

Looking ahead

        Nikolas Chachoff feels “sad and mad.” And cheated.

        He's one of the school's 23 seventh-graders. They would have been the class of 2003. Now, none will graduate from the school they attended together since the first grade.

        Knowing this kept Cathy Harpen, Nikolas' classmate, in tears throughout week.

        “We cried every time we did something for the last time,” she said, “even little things like going out to recess.”

        Between tears, Cathy and other seventh-graders made pacts to keep in touch and not dwell on the end of St. Saviour.

        “We're not saying the school closed,” she noted.

        “We're just saying it's over.”

        Time to move on. To a new school. To start new traditions.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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