By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – While a trio of National Football League games are set for Thanksgiving Day, a more personal and charitable game on Black Friday will be the dinner table conversation in some peninsula towns this holiday
Although Thanksgiving and football have a clear connection, it’s not what one annual flag football tournament is all about. The focus is on giving back to the less fortunate and supporting Lunch Break, a nonprofit social service center on Red Bank’s West Side.
Known for 15 years around the Two River area as the White Road Cup, the Black Friday flag football tournament now called The Rivalry Series will pit Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver and Shrewsbury against one another for the first time in an all-ages day of competition.
“It’s more than just a football game, it’s more than just a fundraiser,” said Rick Brandt, a life-long Little Silver resident who helped found the game. “It’s really rolling up your sleeves and becoming a part of your community to help those in need around the holidays.”
For almost two decades, the White Road Cup was played between Little Silver and Shrewsbury residents, initially high school and college kids home for Thanksgiving break, Brandt said. As young adults, he said he and his friends decided to start collecting small entry fees and turning those proceeds over to Lunch Break.
Fast forward to 2017. Brandt is now on Lunch Break’s Board of Trustees, and doing his part to grow the tournament. After changing locations from White Road Field to Count Basie Field last year to allow for more players, Brandt said the goal this year was to expand the game across the peninsula to include the Rumson and Fair Haven communities, both of which he said are known for their passion for football.
And for the first time, the 11-on-11 tournament which evolved into The Rivalry Series will feature the four towns competing in the Peninsula Playoff Championship. Age brackets for fifth and sixth grades, seventh and eighth grades, men’s 18 to 35, ladies 18 and older, and men’s 35 and older will take over Red Bank Catholic’s home turf Friday.
The tournament will pit the Little Silver Warriors against the Shrewsbury Tigers on one side of the bracket. On the opposite will be the Rumson Bulldogs versus the Fair Haven Knights. Each game will be timed to a 30-minute running clock and whoever has the most points at the end moves to the next round. Games are played almost immediately one after another.
But what makes this tournament different than others, Brandt said, is the impact it has on local charities. To raise awareness about the game, The Rivalry Series trophy made stops at some of the staple businesses in the area: BagelMasters and Shrewsbury Car Wash in Shrewsbury, Booskerdoo Coffee and Lupo Pizzeria in Fair Haven, and Brennan’s Delicatessen in Rumson were just a few of the places the trophy visited.
Along with a suggested registration donation amount of $100 for adults, $75 for 18- to 34-year-olds and $50 for kids, each participant is encouraged to bring nonperishable goods and even clothing to donate to Lunch Break.
Brandt said in the five to six years the tournament has been officially fundraising, it’s raised about $40,000 to $50,000, a level he never thought it could reach.
“The peninsula is just one big family, and we’re all in it together,” Brandt said. “We’re out here to help and that’s what we do.”
Although the football tournament is the biggest draw, about a hundred participants flocked to Lunch Break’s Red Bank headquarters on Nov. 18 to participate in a hot food line, preparing meals for hungry families.
For the past few years, Little Silver resident Jennifer Borenius and her four sons have volunteered at the food line the week before the game. She said it goes a long way in teaching her children how to support their own community.
Giving back is “the most critical piece in my view,” she said. “It’s fun to get out there and play a great game but at the end of the day you recognize there are bigger issues and things more important.”
Borenius has also been instrumental in filling out the ladies’ rosters. She’s recruited about 50 women from Little Silver and Shrewsbury to participate in the game. Consisting mainly of mothers, contingent has been practicing every Saturday morning from 7 to 9 a.m. at Sickles Park to prepare.
She likened the team practices and game atmosphere to how the Two River area supports its local charities.
“In order to progress the ball – move forward in life – you need to have the support of your team, your community,” she said. “That to me exemplifies exactly what Lunch Break is trying to do.”
For more information about scheduling and registration for The Rivalry Series tournament, visit TheRivalrySeries.com.
This article was first published in the Nov. 23-30, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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