Last Monday I felt like the character Ren, from the 1984 film Footloose, speaking before the city council. I had coffee with a friend the previous Wednesday who explained that a motion was being brought forth to the Webster Groves School Board regarding the district's Calendar Committee recommending the cancellation of school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The request was that I attend the meeting to use three minutes of time to explain why canceling this day was a bad idea.
Three minutes to explain the importance of Webster students attending school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was daunting. The argument presented by the Calendar Committee was that there was a 1- to 2-percent drop in attendance in the district and that data somehow was a driving factor. The corollary matter of students and teachers having a five-day holiday was never mentioned, nor was mentioned that students did not seem focused on school that day.
My argument to the board was not one of an emotional plea to save our Turkey Day tradition, but rather one of historical precedence. I wonder why so many fail to learn from history and, in this specific case – Webster history? The Turkey Day Game history is littered with incidence of violence and property defacement. Starting in 1939, the Webster and Kirkwood school districts embarked on establishing events and procedures to curtail the negative activity.
During the 1980s an even more focused effort began to curtail negative activity, which led to even more grandiose activities at the schools. The simple reason was that it was best to keep the students occupied at school and distracted from what they might do outside of school. Of course, the faculty is an important ingredient to keep the students monitored and channeled.
Another historical element is that in the 1980s the schools separated in size and class distinction in state competition, making the Turkey Day Game more symbolic than one whose outcome determined state championship contention. As of 2010, Webster and Kirkwood finally returned to the same size, which was likely the start of a new intensification in relations between the two schools. In 2010, Webster and Kirkwood played against each other for the first time in state competition since 1983. This year, in 2012, the playoff picture has changed drastically, putting Webster and Kirkwood in the position of possibly playing twice a year on an annual basis, once in the playoffs and once for Turkey Day. The combination of these two games, the need to beat the other for a state title, and the history that already exists may bring this rivalry to epic proportions not experienced since the 1920s.
Is now the time that students in the district should be set free to their own devices the day before Thanksgiving? Does faculty really need 24 hours to return “home” for Thanksgiving dinner? Who, working in the Webster School District, is more than 24 hours away from home? These questions continue to pop into my head but the real, trumping issue that concerns this debate is that being at school on Wednesday is about the students. Students need to have fun, relaxed days at school; they need to be a part of something; and, let us face it – they don’t need 24 hours to travel home because they are home. An important matter of taking employment in the Webster School District is the acceptance that you are a part of Turkey Day and that you will do your part.
“It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”
Shawn Buchanan Greene
Editor's note: Greene is a 1987 Webster alumnus and Turkey Day Game historian. The Webster Groves dad also has a weekly blog on Patch called An Elementary Perspective, which runs each Tuesday.