Derby and Shelton mayors surprised by lack of Thanksgiving game, a year after series cancellation

Shelton defeats Derby in their annual Thanksgiving Day football game at the Leo F. Ryan Athletic Complex in Derby, Conn. on Thursday, November 28, 2019.

Shelton defeats Derby in their annual Thanksgiving Day football game at the Leo F. Ryan Athletic Complex in Derby, Conn. on Thursday, November 28, 2019.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

DERBY — The end of the long running Derby and Shelton Thanksgiving football game is old news, unless residents were tuning in on WLPR morning show Chaz and AJ Wednesday.

During the show, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti seemingly expressed surprise at the end of the games even though the two schools announced the cancellation of their century-old rivalry nearly a year ago.

"I was just told that Derby didn't field a team this year. Now I'm being told that they're supposed to be playing a game with Oxford," Lauretti said on the show.

The two hosts set up the call expecting to hear from the mayor about the upcoming game, only to be told by Lauretti that the game was off and he had found out about Derby playing Oxford instead on Thanksgiving. But while the announcement was a revelation to the two hosts and seemingly, Lauretti and Derby Mayor Richard Dziekan, the reasons for Derby and Shelton ending the games are rooted in demographic changes and Shelton's football team desiring to qualify for the state playoffs, according to previous reporting from Hearst Connecticut Media. 

One of the hosts, apparently skeptical that Lauretti was answering seriously and could have indeed been sarcastic, asked if he was joking.

"I'm as serious as a heart attack," he said.

Dziekan also made an appearance on the show and said he didn't know what was going on. But later he said he had heard inklings that the two cities wanted to go their separate ways over the past year. But he was still surprised at Shelton's non appearance on Derby's schedule this Thanksgiving.

"I don't even know Shelton's schedule. To be fair for Shelton, why would they pay attention to our schedule? I mean, I don't even know, I think they're playing. I thought they were playing Thanksgiving, but I guess not,' Dziekan said. "I'm not really involved much with the scheduling and stuff."

Lauretti was also a bit stumped about the end of the more-than-100-year tradition, but mentioned Shelton had played the night before.

"There is no game, we played Xavier last night," Lauretti said.

Lauretti did not answer requests for comment from Hearst Connecticut Media Wednesday. 

Derby and Shelton decided to part ways since the two teams were no longer evenly matched and haven't been for some time. The two teams had played since 1905, but Derby's last win in the series was in 2002 and the games had become increasingly one-sided. Derby was a high school football powerhouse in its heyday but the city has seen a population decrease over the decades and can no longer field a team competitive with Shelton's.

The shrinking of the Derby High School football team was apparent when the 2021 rivalry game one of the five games Derby forfeited due to injuries and player shortages.

Derby's football program also saw a drop in student participation due to the rise in popularity of other sports. At 187 boys, the school's enrollment is much smaller than Shelton's 666 boys.

"There's more interest in soccer, rugby, lacrosse, so there's a lot more activities out there that kids are into," Dziekan said.

Shelton also had its reason to end the games with its now former rival. Because of the disparity between the two teams, Shelton wasn't getting many playoff points for winning the game. This hurt Shelton's Class LL playoff chances.

Derby and Oxford have unveiled a bronzed boot as the prize for the winning team of their Thanksgiving game. Oxford had formerly played rivalry games with Pomperaug and St. Paul high schools. 

With 263 boys enrolled, Oxford is much closer to Derby's size than it is to Pomperaug (573 boys). And although St. Paul, with 205 boys enrolled, is a good match for Oxford or Derby, the school is a 40-mile drive away in Bristol. Derby and Oxford are separated by just nine miles.