Shelton-Derby Thanksgiving Day football tradition disrupted again

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

SHELTON — The Derby-Shelton annual Turkey Day clash has been canceled for the second consecutive year — but this year has nothing to do with the pandemic.

Extensive injuries and a shortage of players has forced Derby High to forfeit the remainder of its games, meaning Shelton will officially extend its Thanksgiving winning streak over their neighboring rivals to 18 consecutive games.

The game was to be at Finn Stadium on Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s extremely disappointing not getting to play this game,” Shelton coach Michael DeFelice said. “It’s been a part of my life for just about 30 years. Thanksgiving isn’t the same without it.”

DeFelice went to his first Turkey Day contest in 1991 as an eighth grader. He graduated Shelton High in 1996 and played in the game for four years. He started coaching not long after graduating high school, so this game has been a significant part of his athletic life, both as a player and a coach.

Senior Shelton High captain Matthew Lockavitch has been at every Thanksgiving Day game since he was 7 and understands the importance of this contest for the team and the community.

“Every year it’s been a tradition for family and friends to travel down to watch this classic football matchup that’s been going on forever,” he said. “Every year the stands are packed with close family members that travel to watch you, neighbors, alumni supporting you and more cheering you on.”

Lockavitch played in the game in his freshman and sophomore years.

“It’s upsetting that I know my former teammates from last year were all exited to come back from college to watch this rivalry, as well as my teammates from my sophomore year,” he said. “They have been letting me know all year they will be at the Thanksgiving game to watch us play.

“It’s unfortunate that it must come to an end my senior year, as it’s been going on for decades and decades,” he added. “Hopefully for my teammates that get to play next year a new tradition will be born that can go on for many years to come.”

Fellow captain Jacob Villalobos said he was disappointed that one of the longest running Thanksgiving Day football traditions has again been canceled.

“My whole life living in Shelton, I have always begun my Thanksgiving Day by going to this Shelton vs. Derby rivalry, and I am aware that this is the case for lots of Shelton/Derby residents,” Villalobos said. “To know that this won’t be happening this year is very upsetting.

“For our seniors to not have this experience for their last year after not being able to experience it last year due to COVID is also heartbreaking,” he added. “Not only do I feel sorry for those on my own team and town that won’t be able to experience this game, but I also feel terrible for Derby.”

Villalobos said he feels for the Derby players, since Shelton only loses one game, but those who play for Derby are losing the rest of their football season “which must be devastating for those who love the game.”

Superintendent Ken Saranich said he understood and respected Derby’s decision.

“It is an extremely unfortunate circumstance for both teams, especially our graduating seniors,” Saranich said. “The Shelton Public Schools will be looking into what we can do for our team in light of this recent unexpected change.”

In all, Derby will be forced to forfeit five games because of the lack of eligible healthy players, according to a release from the Derby Athletic Department.

“The Derby administration appreciates the guidance of the CIAC staff through this process and the graciousness and understanding of the fellow athletic directors and coaches of the schools impacted,” a release from Derby’s athletic department stated.