The Philadelphia Inquirer describes it as “one of the best rivalries in South Jersey.” The history between the two high schools has existed since the opening of East in January of 1967. Through athletics, activities and academics, the schools have competed to reign supreme above the other (if only for a few days). There is no longer-lasting rivalry than their football game on Thanksgiving, or currently the night before. During the forty-nine-year span of this game’s existence, both former Cougar and Lion greats as well as great teams have taken part in this historic series.
Starting in 1969, the two teams had the inaugural game at Cherry Hill West. This did not only mark the beginning of the rivalry, but also of the symbol of victory for years to come, “the Boot”. The trophy is named after Alexander DiBartolomeo, “Al DiBart,” a former West teacher and an East Principal. This game marked an era of dominance among Cherry Hill East football that would routinely punish their opponents, especially their “older brother” West.
East dominated football in Cherry Hill, losing its first game in 1974, but going on to win 26 out of the first 29 games against the Lions. Throughout this stretch, East had multiple South Jersey Champions and All-State athletes.
In 1982, after a few early-season losses, East went on a tear through South Jersey, becoming one of the most dangerous teams around. The team was led by an aggressive-minded offensive and defensive line, anchored by All-American Stan Clayton and upcoming star running back Freshman Tom Coen (the first freshman ever to start and the current head coach). East beat West 35-14. The rest of the Tom Coen Years were met with defensive-based games as the two teams combined for 39 points in the next three games, East winning 2 of them.
“It’s very big. It culminates the season. It has great tradition and rivalry, and the winner here can head into the offseason feeling pretty good about themselves,” said Coen about his current team and past experience in the rivalry.
A year after Coen’s graduation, in 1986, East had an extremely talented senior class that was locked into beating West for revenge of its sophomore loss. Every senior came out to the coin toss with his face painted in camouflage, led by star WR Erik Radbill (the current East baseball coach). Radbill finished the season with 40 catches, one of the highest in program history. As well as having Radbill, QB Cliff Foley became the first player to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season. East went on to win 17-0. This began the Foley Era, three brothers considered East football royalty.
As Cliff headed out, younger brother Glenn began a dynasty of his own. In 1987-1988, the team was full of D-1 and All-State players. In 1987 East dominated 34-0 and the following year Glenn became the second player to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season while setting South Jersey records for touchdown passes. They won that game 35-16.
The dynasty continued in 1989 when the youngest brother Kevin Foley led the team to a 14-0 victory against West. In 1990, Kevin became the third players to throw for 1,000 yards in a season, following his brothers, while winning 38-22. Throughout the ‘90s, East continued to dominate, winning 8 out of the 10 games.
Although throughout the 2000s East has had dominant running backs, including Al Valentino and Mike Drake, the games were won by West, winning 7 out of the 9 (the first time West won a decade). West’s Claron Johnson ran for over 1,400 yards in 2005, setting West’s single-season rushing record.
In the last four games, West has gone 4-0, making it West’s longest winning streak in series history. East, on the other hand, has faced a lack of success in recent past.
“A win is so important because we haven’t won in a while, and it’d be cool to bring the boot back,” said Nick Gazzola (‘19) about the upcoming game. East has felt a dent in its esteemed football resume prior to the 2000s.
East is winning the series 31-17 with its longest winning streak being 9. It won 26 out of the first 29 games, but this game could tell the future of the rivalry.