Needham-Wellesley America’s Oldest Turkey Day high school football game

Wellesley Needham high school football

On November 30, 1882, America’s oldest Turkey Day high school football game began in Massachusetts with next-door neighbors Needham and Wellesley doing battle. It was a natural rivalry, because until 1881, Wellesley was actually called West Needham.

The rivalry began when Wellesley’s quarterback Arthur Oldham, who served as the team’s captain, suggested that the two schools play a “real” game. The reason for the description of a “real” game is, that at that time, most games we’re more informal that media reports called casual free-for-alls.

Wellesley won the first game by a score of 4-0 and the rest is history as the two schools prepare for their 132nd game on Thursday morning. Needham won last year’s game 14-13. Wellesley leads the all-time series 62-60-9.

Turn-back Tuesday: Former Wellesley head coach Bill Tracey talks about the game on the High School Football America Radio Show in 2011

The only time the game wasn’t played was during World Wars I and II, plus from 1950 through 1952 when the contest was cancelled after riots broke-out between the two teams.

Photo from Needham History Center & Museum
The Needham High School football team for 1904 poses on the steps of the High School (now the Emery Grover Building).  Manager Nat Wyeth is in the top row, third from left; Captain John Burrage is next to him, fourth from left.  The quarterback was Frank Stanwood, third from left in the second row.  Nat’s brother Edwin is in the front row, second from right.

Wellesley, which is currently ranked No. 10 in our Massachusetts Top 10, enters Thursday’s game with an 9-2 mark, while Needham is 2-8…but like they say, you can throw out the records when it comes to the country’s oldest public high school football series.

About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.