It’s nearly time to take to the field Thanksgiving morning.
Thirty years ago, driven by the excitement of the playoff-bound 1986 Cleveland Browns, my family decided to organize a football game the morning of Thanksgiving. Our inaugural game took place at Herbrich Elementary School on Smith Road. That game marked the beginning of a Thanksgiving Day tradition. Over the years, we’ve moved the home field around Akron, but for the last 10 years, we’ve played at Schneider Park.
The football game is a great mental and physical inspiration to begin the holiday, and I’m looking forward to it again.
I’ve learned about the history of Schneider Park over this past year, such as its use by the Summit County Infirmary during the 19th century, and it’s changed my thinking of our annual game.
I asked my brother to help me write something to celebrate our 30th game, including old Schneider Park as a character.
Below, you’ll find my brother Chris’ article. For more of the story, you can check the Working Class Vegan Man blog.
Under Northeast Ohio late November skies, they came. Men ambled forth, as their fathers had thirty years before, down from the ramparts onto the misted plains of Schneider Park to play their annual Thanksgiving Day football game.
They rose early that morning to ready themselves in the traditional manner. They rubbed down their loins with lavender and fine unguents, while the women folk labored over hot kitchen fires making qoftë and lokume, clucking oh so disdainfully about grown men’s fondness for rolling about in the mud like swine.
The proper accouterments were fitted for utmost physical protection, as no man could risk loss of virility and thus endure town ridicule. Some of the men surrendered themselves to passions running high in advance of the game and postured menacingly to assert dominance, beating their breasts as they did. They would be calmed by cooler heads, but not before noses were bloodied and friendships badly damaged.
Soon they left for the fields of Schneider, singing the songs of the old country and tearing up suburban turf as they advanced. The weaker of them vomited along the way. Children rushed to their mothers’ apron strings.
Upon reaching the field, game rules were laid down and the field boundaries set. Teams were chosen. The large men went first. Thick, beefy souls, fed on the plenty of American industrial farming and with lungs strengthened through years of rigorous smoking – these would form the foundation of each team. Pickings slimmed as selections progressed through the ranks. One of the men would be designated all-time offense. Another, a single, sylphine youth, was repudiated by both sides and relegated to sighing wistfully beneath a stately elm to gaze longingly on.
Under the dim shadows of surrounding steeples – those of St Sebastian’s to the west and Christ United Methodist to the south, echoing the hostility of those great wars for religious domination in Christendom – men took their positions on opposite sides of the field. Spectators bit their lips. Soon the ball, a Wilson (counter to local legend), was kicked high into the air and the game was begun. The receiving team downed it in the muck at what at that point was estimated to be the twenty five yard line, or thereabouts. Who really could say?
Through the morning then, the scrum of bodies advanced up and down the field, slogging and churning through mud. Little did they know or care that a century earlier this field was pregnant with the dead bodies of Akron’s forgotten souls laid by the County Infirmary. Whole lives, suffering indignity, were trampled over by this mindless mass of men, fighting tooth and claw for every inch of field, attempting to claim as their own the sacred ground consecrated by the tears of long dead parents mourning the futility of their issue.
And what of Philip Schneider: that early 20th Century benefactor during Akron’s time of industrial ascendancy, who vouchsafed this land to the city’s posterity? What would he have thought of this application of his usufruct? Surely the Heavens wept as the last touchdown was scored and the men headed home to their Thanksgiving dinners with nary a thought for the misted plains of Schneider Park.