When I was a boy  —  as far back as I can remember  —  I spent Thanksgiving morning’s sitting on the hard, cold bleachers of Abington’s historic Memorial Field for the annual tradition of Abington vs. Cheltenham football. Every now and again — if their was a lull in the game or a lopsided contest  —  I looked up through the swirling flurry-filled late autumn winds to glance at the iconic art deco World War II facade of the old abandoned Huntingdon Jr. High School just a few feet away.

The school had long since closed in the early 1980s and the current Junior High School was right down the street. The abandoned school still loomed large over Memorial Field. Occasionally, I’d sneak into the old school to see its once beautiful gymnasium floor now with a crashed piano at its center. 

Later that evening  —  as I returned from a Thanksgiving feast with my family — we drove past the same old Huntingdon Jr. High School  —  which cast an eerie shadow in the early dusk hours against a late November sunset.

That same dark shadow looms over Abington today.

Abington has seen its share of challenges this year. Almost two weeks ago, police had to respond and place Abington Senior High School on lockdown after a fight broke out amongst the student body. In August 2023, Police responded when a gun was uncovered at the 108th rivalry Abington and Cheltenham Football Game. Nearly a month later in September 2023, an Abington Senior High School was the scene of a brawl between two rival groups. Abington Police were called in during both altercations.

Last week, it was announced that this year’s Abington and Cheltenham Football Game  —  one of the oldest in the State of Pennsylvania since 1915  —  has been suspended for 2024. Just a stones’ throw away, the historic Abington Presbyterian Cemetery , the site of multiple Revolutionary War Skirmishes, still stands today.

Eighty years before my frozen hindquarters rested on those bleachers, the ground around Abington’s Vinegar Hill was cleared for a school and an athletic field that would become Memorial Field. Since 1915, that field was home for Abington Football when they hosted rival Cheltenham. Memorial Field saw future NFL talent such as Chuck Weber, Eddie George, and Shawn Wooden.

Next year would be the 110th anniversary of the rivalry. Cancelling the game due to fear doesn’t honor the anniversary of a piece of Pennsylvania history. It writes the wrong next chapter of it.

This generation of high school athletes has seen adversity at every turn. The pandemic interrupted their education and stunted their social development. The disruption and threat of violence affects it everyday even in the confines of their school. It is not the right message to cancel a historic rivalry game rooted deep in Pennsylvania sports history to give into fear.

You don’t have to be a historian to feel a responsibility to history. We all have that. Abington vs. Cheltenham has previously been on a hiatus. The game was not played in the years 1943, 1946, 1947, 1980, 1995, and 2006. But it was played during WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam. They even played the game during the pandemic.

Rather, it teaches this next generation of future leaders the wrong message to simply pause tradition in the face adversity. To abandon tradition and to give into the fear that surrounds us everyday whether we hold the event or not.

We’d have to cancel a lot more than football games if we took that approach.

It was Penn State Abington who would end up saving Memorial Field back in 2014 when they engaged in a lease agreement to use Memorial Field in return for an investment of approximately $5 million for renovations. The newly renovated outdoor sports complex now plays home field to Penn State Abington softball, lacrosse, and soccer.

Today, the gorgeous exterior facade of Huntingdon Jr. High School has long been demolished, replaced by a senior living community. Across the street at the renovated Memorial Field now covered with shades of Nittany Lion Blue and White  —  and whose field has seen almost 110 years of Abington sports and graduations including mine and my mother’s  —  offers a solution to this modern-day conundrum in its almost daily cheering at Nittany Lion Sporting Events:

Let the boys play football.

Michael Thomas Leibrandt lives and works in Abington Township, Pennsylvania

One thought on “Michael Thomas Leibrandt: Let the boys play football”

  1. I read the hyperlinks you included. “Speculation has it that the 2024 pause is related to the arrest of a Cheltenham High School student for possession of a firearm during the game, though officials neither confirmed nor denied that possibility.”
    Why can’t they deny it? Or confirm it? Is it a state secret? That doesn’t make sense.
    However, it is now all too common for area high school sports games to have to be rescheduled, or cancelled, and have restrictions on who can attend. We live in a sick society.
    Then this: “Jordan Jones, a former school resource officer at Abington High School, made the arrest. Jones, a full-time officer with Abington Township Police Department, has been placed on administrative leave with intent to dismiss per protocol.” Why was he arrested?
    “Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele announced the arrest of Jordan Jones, a 29-year-old school resource officer at Abington High School, on felony charges of institutional sexual assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors.” He was a police officer. There are bad apples in every profession.
    A canceled football game is a symptom of a far bigger systemic breakdown in our society.

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