Justin A. Rice for Boston.comFresh off an 11-month tour with the US Army Reserve in Iraq, Beverly state Rep. Jerry Parisella stood behind a lectern at the center of the Beverly-Salem bridge this morning for the annual “Bridge the Gap” ceremony, a prelude to the Salem-Beverly high school football game on Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s a little bit warmer in Baghdad right now,” said Parisella, 48, a judge advocate, or military lawyer, with the 804th Medical Brigade, an Army Reserve unit based at Fort Devens. “I graduated from Beverly High 30 years ago and when I went to school it was all about wreaking havoc on the other city. It’s great you folks have come together and say ‘We’re not going to allow vandalism.’”
Since 1986 the annual ceremony has not only been a chance for the teams and their supporters to show good sportsmanship before they battle on Turkey Day, but also a chance to denounce the vandalism that has surrounding the game in the past.
Patrick Dunning, the Salem Marching Band leader, said this year’s campaign has been expanded to address hatred and violence at large.
“It’s very obvious that’s usually [vandalism is] a result of hatred and conflict,” Dunning said. “So that’s why we are eliminating it at the root, person-to-person, at the root in its physical form but also its mental form.”
Off-field friendliness aside, there’s still the matter of playing the 113th straight year on Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. on Thursday at Salem High’s Bertram Field. And even though the Witches are 1-9 on the season, Blake Sullivan — one of the Panthers (6-4) captains — said they are not taking their rivals lightly. Especially since Salem won last year’s contest 12-7.
“I think when it comes to Thanksgiving we say the records don’t matter,” said Sullivan, noting that Beverly will not be defending its Div. 3 Super Bowl title won last winter. “We could be undefeated and they could be completely defeated and it’s an absolute battle every time. This is our Bowl Game. We’re going full steam ahead.”
Only pride will be on the line for each city’s respective mayors as well. Salem Mayor Kim
Driscoll and Beverly Mayor William F. Scanlon, Jr. both said they do not even have a friendly wager on the game.
“What’s great is the history of the rivalry,” Driscoll said.
“Contrary to rumors, I wasn’t here for the first game,” Scanlon added.
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.