Return of Big 33 game brings more normalcy to Central PA football, full recap

Sports

When the Big 33 game kicked off at Landis Field on Memorial Day, it marked the first time in two years the game had been played in the Midstate.

The 2020 edition of the annual all star game was, of course, cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 edition, however, sparked renewed hope for what fans could see in the fall when high school football returns.

Live streams and Twitter updates replaced by tickets and Farm Show Milkshakes. Landis Field hosted thousands of fans this Memorial Day Weekend for the return of the 64th annual Big 33 Football Classic.

This game is special to so many, not only because of the football, but everything else that goes into it.

“It means a whole lot to me, but it means a whole lot more to a whole lot of other people: the players, the buddies, the cheerleaders, all the people that actually get to participate in the event,” said PSFCA-Big 33 Executive Director Garry Cathell.

The game brings the best 33 players from Pennsylvania and the best 33 players from Maryland to Harrisburg for one final high school game.

“it feels great,” said Central York wide receiver Judah Tomb. “It feels like I’ve got a lot of importance, and it feels like my moment is finally coming along.”

For some players, being selected to play in the Big 33 Football Classic is the realization of a lifelong dream.

“It’s just a blessing,” said Warwick quarterback Joey McCracken “My whole life I’ve dreamed of playing in this game and being on Team Pennsylvania. So to be able to just play in the game and get the whole experience, [plus] win the game on top of all that, it feels really really good.”

The game was never out of Pennsylvania’s control, leading 13-0 at the half after a defensive scoop and score, and a 64-yard touchdown from Manheim Township’s Evan Clark to Tomb. Team PA went on to win 20-0 over Maryland.

“When the kickoff happened, it was a great, great feeling,” Cathell said. “As you can see, we have a great crowd, a beautiful day today and we have a great game going on. Everything is turning out well after the two-year hiatus.”

Big 33 is special for a few reasons, according to Cathell. The game brings the best of the best to Central Pennsylvania. It also honors veterans in a special moment of silence on Memorial Day, focusing on those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It showcases the relationship between these college-bound athletes and their buddies with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association paying careful attention to honoring the entire school community.

“I kinda get all choked up when it comes to the feeling of being a part of Big 33,” Cathell said. “It’s just a tremendous feeling.”

The game dates back to 1957, so it’s also the history behind the 64 year tradition of the Big 33 Football Classic.

“Its history is very, very key to why everyone loves Big 33,” Cathell said. “When you start throwing out the names of the alumni for this event everyone’s jaw drops.”

How about one of the very first to ever play in the Big 33 in 1961? Super Bowl Champion and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath.

As if Namath wasn’t enough, four-time Super Bowl Champion Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Harrisburg’s own Ricky Watters, two-time Pro Bowler Kerry Collins, Penn State great LaVar Arrington, and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger all played in the game.

“The Big 33 has this reputation of having the biggest and the best in the entire state vs other states,” said Bishop McDevitt’s Julian Bakos. “It’s always something that you see somebody in the next level who has played [in the Big 33].”

In fact, there has never been a Super Bowl played without a representative of the Big 33 on the roster.

While the history and the potential future is bright for the 66 players on Team PA and Team MD, this game is also simple. A chance to play one last game in a high school uniform before these players move on to college.

“Definitely being able to get out on the field one more time during my high school career, put the pads back on and be able to end it on a high note is really awesome,” McCracken said.

A simple goodbye during a season of senior proms and graduations to the game who gave these players so much.

“It is absolutely the best goodbye party someone could have<” Bakos said. “Going out on top, the best in the state and fortunately winning 20-0 against Maryland.”

The Big 33 plans to return for its 65th annual classic next spring.

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