WALLINGFORD — Generations of high school seniors have made playing in the Samaha Bowl — the annual powder puff game held the day before Thanksgiving — a rite of passage.
The game of girls flag football is so popular, it averages 3,000 fans per year, drawing as many as 5,000. It’s even estimated to be the second-highest attended town event, after the Fourth of July fireworks.
The 50th Samaha Bowl kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sheehan’s Riccitelli Field. The tradition was founded in 1972 by former Sheehan athletic director Judy Samaha, who died in July 2020.
Cheryl Colwick, Sheehan physical education teacher, and Ed Neilander, Lyman Hall outdoor track and field coach, are the powder puff coaches for their respective schools.
As dozens of current students at Lyman Hall and Sheehan high schools gear up for Wednesday’s milestone game, former players organized a series of reunion events, which culminated in an alumni flag football game Saturday at Lyman Hall, sponsored by Gaylord Specialty Healthcare.
Sheehan won the reunion game 36-26.
About 100 alumni from Sheehan and about 100 from Lyman Hall participated. The players were grouped by their graduating year and each age group played in a dedicated quarter.
Tony Terzi, sports anchor and reporter on Fox 61, served as announcer.Generations
Several pairs of mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, and even great-aunts and grand-nieces, have participated in powder puff during its 50-year span.
Michele Connolly, a member of the 50th anniversary events committee, played for Sheehan in the 1983 powder puff game.
“Anybody who was a senior could participate,” said Connolly, 54. “We got pretty close as a class, so a lot of us have kept in touch over the years.”
All three of her daughters have played — Nicole Connolly in 2015, Kyra Connolly in 2018 and Valerie Connolly earlier this year.
Michele Connolly and Nicole Connolly played in the alumni game Saturday.
“The tradition just continues growing every year,” said Nicole Connolly, 23. “It’s just a good experience to have the entire senior class come together for one big event.”
She added that it’s a chance for non-athletes to participate in a sports event, which opens up opportunities for bonding and friendship.
“You can build relationships and bonds with girls that you never would have thought you’d have a friendship with,” she said. “You come out with a lot (more) closeness with your entire senior class. Almost like a last hurrah.”
Michele Connolly said she wanted to help organize this year’s 50th game reunion events to remember Judy Samaha, her gym teacher and softball coach, whom she called a “wonderful coach, wonderful mentor for any of the girls.”
A number of players from the 1970s helped plan the 50th reunion events, including Cherlyn Gill, who was a quarterback in the 1978 game for Lyman Hall, when the annual game had been active for less than a decade.
“I guess I never really thought of the longevity of it,” said Gill, 60, whose daughter Katie Gill played in 2011 for Sheehan, also as a quarterback.
“Every year, it was just something that the seniors looked forward to, that you talked about from elementary school on up,” Cherlyn Gill said.‘Biggest thing’
Katie Gill, 27, is a physical education and health teacher at Lyman Hall and field hockey coach at Sheehan.
“The coolest thing about going to Sheehan and working in Lyman Hall is being able to see both sides of the town’s traditions,” Katie Gill said, “and how they differ and how unique they are. It’s definitely been something really awesome to be a part of.”
A three-sport athlete in high school, she said her goal during her time playing had been to beat her mom’s powder puff records.
“She brags about scoring all the points, because they scored a safety on her, and I was like, I want to be quarterback and I want to score a touchdown,” she said.
Katie Gill didn’t score that touchdown in 2011, but she’s happy that women’s athletics have gotten more publicity in the years since her turn on the powder puff field.
“It’s just one of those things,” she said, “(when) you grow up in Wallingford and as a girl, that's the biggest thing that anybody talks about, so you want to be a part of that.”
One of her tasks on the 50th anniversary committee was going through all 49 yearbooks to get pictures for the powder puff games.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been ‘volun-told’ to do,” she said. “Just the history through the books, the passion throughout the years, and it just grew and grew and grew. Half the yearbook is powder puff pictures, which is awesome.”