PORTLAND – Thanksgiving Day is many things, but count food, family and football at the top.

What better way to enjoy football on the holiday than with family in front of the television, or perhaps attending this morning’s Thanksgiving Day Game at Fitzpatrick Stadium?

Three coaches and their football- playing sons have been enjoying their special bond on the sidelines this season.

For Deering head coach Greg Stilphen and son Alex, Deering assistant coach Ted Ross and son Jamie, and Portland assistant coach Barry Kenney and son Caleb, the traditional game caps a season of highs, lows and almosts.

Being together during games and practices this season has definitely been a high, say these fathers and sons.

As volunteer assistants, Ross and Kenney have been careful to keep their distance and let their sons be themselves.

Stilphen has too, but it’s different in his situation. As the head coach he oversees the entire team. You could say he has 40 sons.

Neither Ross nor Kenney directly coach their sons.

Kenney, a carpenter, coaches the freshmen and works with the varsity. Ross, a Portland police captain, coaches the line, a position he played in high school and college. Kenney is a fullback-linebacker, and Ross is a quarterback, punter and kicker.

“Thanksgiving is about family,” said Ted Ross. “Anyone who is a parent and has the opportunity to spend time with their children in that capacity should do it.

“Jamie is the middle of my three children and I enjoy spending time with all of them. There will be no better enjoyment I will have than spending time with Jamie on the sideline (today), and I’m hoping he’s thinking the same as me. It’s kind of bittersweet in that it’s his last game and we won’t have the opportunity again.”

The Kenneys have the added connection of both having played in the traditional game. Barry played in three Thanksgiving Day games for the Bulldogs (1978, 1979, 1980) as an undersized guard-linebacker.

Kenney and Ross coached their sons in youth football. Stilphen was more of a sideline observer when Alex started playing.

Watching his dad coach the freshmen this season reminded Kenney of his first experiences as a player.

“Seeing him work with the younger guys brought back memories of Little Ladd football when he was my coach for five or six years,” said Caleb.

“It’s been fun getting to see him coach again. He’s given me some advice during games, like how I can tweak some blocking assignment. “

Kenney said his father likes to talk about his era, when players were supposedly mentally tougher.

“I just let him talk,” said Kenney smiling. “Having him with me has been a different experience. It’s been nice being able to share that. I think he’s enjoyed it.”

“I’m proud to coach and especially proud to have my son as captain and playing at a pretty high level,” said Barry Kenney.

Ted Ross knew early on that if he was going to coach his son, he would have some help.

“I was a lineman and it was obvious that Jamie was more of a skilled player than me,” he said. “I was fortunate that I found an individual in Danny Hendrix, who really helped out in terms of Jamie’s mechanics at quarterback.”

After Hendrix, another quarterback coach in the area, Tim Bryant, helped Ross in high school.

Being of different temperaments, the arrangement has worked out well for the Rosses.

“Jamie is laid back, I’m more vocal. Realizing how difficult it is to play quarterback, I wanted to avoid direct contact,” Ted Ross said.

As he’s matured, Jamie Ross has come to accept his father’s advice.

“I was never a big fan of fathers coaching their sons, but this year has been special with him on the sideline. I can’t say I haven’t benefited from his advice,” said Jamie.

Since he was young, it’s been all football for Alex Stilphen, a junior two-way tackle. That often happens when your father is a coach. That’s been OK with him.

“I grew up watching football and dreamed of the day I could play,” said Stilphen. “I first played touch football, which I didn’t like much.

“There’s some pressure having my father as a coach because people expect you to perform. It’s a blessing and a curse, I guess. People think the reason that you’re starting is because your father is the coach. I’ve worked hard and I’m still working hard to improve as a player, but there are privileges in having a father as a coach. You have his knowledge available all the time and more opportunities to improve.”

Stilphen has the maturity to handle all that’s required playing for your father.

But it’s not just one Stilphen he calls ‘Coach.’ Two of his uncles are assistant coaches with the Rams.

“My teammates ask: ‘What’s it like being around him 24/7?’ We’re together for practices and the drive home, but once we’re home he’s like any regular dad.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]