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Opinion: Powder puff far from trivial in Wallingford’s one-school consideration

By Jeffery Kurz

On Nov. 22, Sheehan High School bested cross-town rival Lyman Hall in the 52nd Samaha Bowl, the premier powder puff game held at Sheehan’s Riccitelli Field. As the R-J reported, there were 2,500 fans on hand to watch the 21-7 win.

“I feel great,” offered Mia D’Angelo, who was the game’s scoring machine. D’Angelo was responsible for all three Sheehan touchdowns and booted the extra points to boot.

Before the game, a Sheehan a cappella quartet sang the national anthem. At halftime, cheerleaders from both Sheehan and Lyman Hall performed.

It was the second straight win for Sheehan, following a string of losses to Lyman Hall, and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. was on hand to present the Samaha Bowl trophy.

“Each one of you — both teams, all the coaches, all the cheerleaders — you do so much for the whole community in how you play this game,” said the mayor.

As we know, Dickinson will not be mayor for much longer, having decided not to seek re-election after 40 years in office. The Samaha Bowl is a tradition that is even longer, but that too may be facing an end.

Earlier this year, Wallingford’s Board of Education voted overwhelmingly for consolidating the two public high schools. You might think a powder puff game would be the least of worries in so dramatic a consideration, and it certainly is compared to issues like how many students are going to be in a class — but my point, as you may have guessed, is that it’s still important, because it speaks to a community’s sense of community, something very much worth hanging on to.

The game in Wallingford is the one that started it all, and powder puff is as old, or nearly so, as Sheehan itself. For a story about the game in 2004 I had the chance to interview Judy Samaha and gain some insight into a game that from the start was more than a flag football competition between teams of high school girls.

Sheehan opened in 1971. That year school athletics were at the junior varsity level, but the following year Sheehan faced off against Lyman Hall in the Carini Bowl.

In 1972,  Title IX was passed to make sure women would get an equal chance when it came to sports — as in equipment, scholarships, facilities, coaches, etc. Powder puff was part of an effort to get more kids involved.

“It was an exciting time for female sports then,” recalled Samaha, a physical education teacher who had come over to Sheehan from Lyman Hall. “Today, kids take it for granted that everything’s equal.”

Year after year the game got bigger. Samaha, who died in 2020, was able to watch it become a major event.

All of this becomes history once the two schools combine. Powder puff on its own is not a compelling enough reason to not combine the schools, but it does point to a consideration that ought to count for something. That something is similar to what people have felt about Community Pool. It’s something that unites generations and engenders a powerful sense of community.

Though the school board has supported the one-school plan, it’s far from a done deal. Powder puff may not be among the deciding considerations, but it’s not a trivial one.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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