November 2020 — This Month In History: East-West Thanksgiving Day Football

By John Jaros, Executive Director, Aurora Historical Society

East Aurora and West Aurora High Schools began playing an annual football game back in 1893. The game was typically the last game of the year, played on Hurd’s Island.

Thousands of fans from both sides of the river would turn out for the game. In the early days, there was no official state championship game—the teams with the two best records in the state would schedule a game to decide who was best. For several years in the 1910s, those teams were East Aurora and West Aurora, and the Thanksgiving Day game was the de facto state championship.

The games were played on Hurd’s Island through 1919, after which the Burlington Railroad elevation cut across the island and a new field had to be found. In 1920, the annual game moved to East’s newly-built stadium on Fifth Avenue, where West was also playing its home games from 1921 to 1925. West got a new stadium in 1926 at West Galena & Commonwealth. From that time on, the game alternated annually between the two stadiums.

In 1951 and 1952, the East-West game was moved to an earlier date in November. But in 1953, one last Turkey Day football game was played between East and West as East hosted and topped West, 19-7.

The annual East-West game moved occasionally to October, but for most of the 1950s, through the 1980s, it was usually the last game played for both teams, not on Thanksgiving, but sometime in early November. Things changed in the mid-1990s. Both teams had played in the Upstate Eight Conference, but in 1997, West moved to the DuPage Valley Conference. This began the new tradition of East playing West for the season opener in late August.

For more information on the subject, see Steve Solarz’ book, Aurora’s East-West Football Rivalry, available through AHS for $19.99 plus tax and shipping.