Turkey Day Football in LR – Catholic High takes on NLR from 1958 to 1978

cath-nlrhs-grid-1971Following the demise of their Turkey Day rivalry with Little Rock High School, North Little Rock set their Thanksgiving sights on Little Rock Catholic.  In 1958, they started a 21-year tradition of meeting on the fourth Thursday in November.  (Previously Cathlolic had not been in a regular Thanksgiving rivalry. In fact, they sometimes did not even play on that day.)

The 1958 game, held at Wildcat Stadium, started where NLR’s previous Thanksgiving series had left off. A Little Rock team, now the Rockets of Catholic High, achieved a lopsided win over the NLR Wildcats.  The final score was 26-0, in favor of Catholic.

The next several years saw close games. Sometimes Catholic would win, other times NLR was the victor.  In 1960, Catholic lost the game, but won the conference championship (which was tantamount to a state championship at the time) due to results of other games.  In 1965, NLR won the game AND the conference/state championship.

From 1966 to 1969, NLR ran up a string of convincing victories over Catholic High.  This streak ended in 1970.  That year, NLR had been ranked number 1 heading into the game.  They lost the game to Catholic by a score of 21 to 16.  This also marked the first meeting of the teams to take place at the Catholic home field of War Memorial Stadium.  All previous meetings had been at NLR’s Wildcat Stadium.

Starting in 1970, they alternated hosting the game at their respective home stadium.  In 1971, Catholic again won the game and a state championship. The following year, NLR won both the game and a championship.  By that time, the northside school bore the name Ole Main to distinguish it from the new NLR high school: Northeast.  The 1972 game would be the final time that the game between the Rockets and Wildcats had championship implications.

From 1973 through 1978, Catholic and NLR alternated winning the game with the home team coming out on top.  Due to conference realignment, Catholic High dropped from AAAAA to AAAA starting with the 1979 football season. With that, they no longer played NLR on Thanksgiving Day.

Though in 1970 NLR had acquired its own cross-town rival with the opening of NLR Northeast, the creation of an all-NLR Thanksgiving Day tradition was never started. Likewise, Catholic did not start playing the new Little Rock high school, Parkview, on Turkey Day. Both would have probably created stronger Thanksgiving Day rivalries, but by this time, the Arkansas Activities Association was trying to discourage the tradition of playing on Thanksgiving.  Having a game that late in the season interfered with postseason playoffs.  The AAA had actually tried to dissuade teams from playing on the holiday as early as 1961, but were rebuffed by the larger schools who saw no need to give up the tradition.

In 1958, there were at least 23 high school football games played throughout the state on Thanksgiving.  By 1965, that number had shrunk to 13. In 1970, there were only two games: Hall v. Central and NLR v. Catholic.

The final tally of Thanksgiving meetings between NLR and Catholic was NLR 12 wins, Catholic 8 wins and one tie.  Catholic twice shut out NLR, and the Wildcats blanked the Rockets three times.  The northside team scored 267 points over 21 years, while the southsiders earned 223 points.


Year NLR Catholic
1958 0 26
1959 6 0
1960 20 14
1961 14 7
1962 7 14
1963 0 14
1964 6 6
1965 14 7
1966 33 0
1967 19 7
1968 40 13
1969 21 12
1970 16 21
1971 6 21
1972 7 6
1973 25 7
1974 3 8
1975 9 6
1976 7 14
1977 7 0
1978 7 20