This is the longer version of the story which ran in Thursday’s paper.
By T.J. Berka
Being one of eight teams in a division alive for a CIF championship is what practicing on Thanksgiving Day is all about, as the chosen few teams get to continue their seasons while most around them have been eliminated.
“Practicing on Thanksgiving is something we take a lot of pride in,” Aquinas coach Josh Henderson said. “We’ve done it five years in a row and six times since I’ve been here. You are one of eight teams still left playing in your division, which is a standard which we are proud to have in our program.”
Thanksgiving practice is typically held in the morning, giving players plenty of time to spend the rest of the holiday with their respective families. Coming a day before quarterfinal games are typically played, the practices are mostly walk-throughs — last-minute workouts and fine-tuning before game day.
But Thanksgiving walkthroughs have taken on a life of their own over the years. That is especially true among the Dick Bruich Fontana High School coaching tree, as “The Turkey Story” has almost become as big of a part of Thanksgiving practice as finalizing game plans.
“The Turkey Story is great,” Redlands East Valley junior quarterback Tyler Shreve said. “It’s one thing we all rally around. Last week we were telling each other ‘If we win, we get to practice and hear the Turkey Story’ It’s a fun thing we all enjoy.”
Both REV coach Kurt Bruich and Henderson played their high school football at Fohi under Dick Bruich, whose legendary 292-win, four CIF-title career concluded at Kaiser High School with a 13-12 loss to Banning in the first round of the CIF-SS Eastern Division playoffs last week.
During his 23 years at Fontana from 1976-98, Thanksgiving practices could have been scheduled as early as July, as the Steelers were regular players in late-November, early-December football. Because of that, there was some conflict between Thanksgiving pigouts and playoff football.
“It actually came about by mistake in the mid-70s,” Dick Bruich said. “We’d have an assistant telling kids not to pig out until Saturday, and that lasted a few years. Then we’d have assistants telling the kids to pig out, and that went for a few years. Finally it turned into a story.
“Some were really funny, others were terrible, but everyone seemed to enjoy them. The kids treated it like a bedtime story — if they were good and got past the first round of the playoffs, they could hear it.”
Its effects last 30 years later, as the Fohi Thanksgiving tradition has spread its wings around the Inland Empire.
“It’s really a fun thing,” Kurt Bruich said. “I’m pretty different from my dad and I don’t do a lot of the same things he did, but that’s one thing that I brought from him that I’ll always do.”
Kurt was a wide receiver on Fohi’s 1987 mythical national championship team, preceding Henderson and Aquinas assistant Jeff McCarthy, who both last played at Fohi in 1992.
The story had kicked into high gear by then, something that stuck with McCarthy.
McCarthy is in control of the Turkey Story duties, a job that has taken a life of its own since he joined Henderson at Aquinas in 2000. It’s an exclusive, almost invitation-only event, with Falcon alumni returning Thanksgiving morning to hear the latest installment alongside the current players. He also assigns the reader of the Turkey Story, something he’s done himself in 2000 and 2005 — CIF championship years for the Falcons.
“Coach Henderson is challenging all the coaches,” said McCarthy jokingly. “He’s challenging them to read well and lead us to a CIF title, since I’m the only one that’s had that happen.”
The Turkey Story also has been the foundation of further Aquinas hijinks, such as coaches splicing goofy home videos into game film, implementing hilarity into what is supposed to be a serious instructional session.
“It’s one of those stupid things that just breaks up the tension,” McCarthy said. “Coach Henderson will be doing his thing, just tearing into this and that and harping on players to fulfill this or that assignment and a clip of a coach fooling around will pop up.
“Most of the kids sit there shocked, as if they’ll get in trouble if they laugh. The ‘tough guys,’ the ones who don’t care about being yelled at, will chuckle, but the rest of them are pretty confused on whether its OK to laugh.”
While McCarthy runs the Turkey Story festivities at Aquinas, defensive backs coach Citos Marinez is the creative force at REV.
The 27-year old Marinez, who played under Kurt Bruich when Bruich was an assistant at Rowland Heights Rowland, was chosen due to his youth and hipness.
“Citos is a young guy, so the players think he’s cool or something,” Kurt Bruich said. “They think he’s funny and he does a great job with it. They all love it.”
Marinez, like McCarthy at Aquinas, takes his job as the Turkey Story czar seriously. After Tuesday morning practices Thanksgiving week, Marinez and the REV coaching staff go out to eat, brainstorming about story ideas.
“It’s always something that sounded cool to me,” Marinez said. “When I was playing at Rowland, Coach Bruich would always talk about the Turkey Story and how cool it was.
“We never got to play Thanksgiving weekend, so I never heard one. But once I got here, it was something that I was excited about being a part of.”
Marinez tends to try to incorporate the upcoming opponent (this year, it’s the Temecula Chaparral Pumas) and movies into his story, which he tells on the hill overlooking the REV practice field.
Last year before the Wildcats played Norco, Marinez based his story on the movie ’300′, which the Wildcats watched as a team earlier that season.
“I would tell part of the story and then give them the line ‘Wildcats, what is our profession?’” Marinez said. “They’d say ‘Hooo! Hooo!’ real loud and I’d continue.
“I gave players Greek nicknames in the story to keep them involved. Tyler Shreve was ‘The Tall One’, Chris Polk was ‘Flashitis’ and Coach Bruich was ‘Bruitis.’”
While Dick Bruich never gave his players Greek nicknames, or really told the stories for the most part, he’s proud of their legacy.
“I was hoping to do one last one for my Kaiser kids this week, but it didn’t work out,” Bruich said. “I’m proud that something like this has had a positive effect. It shows that we must have been doing something right over the years.”