By Chris Rotolo |Thanksgiving may be about friends, family and feasting.But for those in the Two River area who like to get out and throw around a football, the day after Thanksgiving is all about “the Rivalry.”For the past six years, the Rivalry Series flag football knockout tournament has pitted town against town in a good-natured Black Friday competition that also raises serious money for Lunch Break of Red Bank.This year, the 2018 edition will include an even larger field of participants. Joining Little Silver, Shrewsbury, Fair Haven and Rumson will be squads from Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport and Red Bank.“The past couple of years we’ve started to include more and more people from different communities and the word continues to spread, and the interest grows,” said Rivalry Series organizer Rick Brandt of Little Silver.The games will kick off Friday, Nov. 23 at Count Basie Field in Red Bank and run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Children from different towns will play each other at grade level. There is also a division for women and another for men 18-34 and over 35.The first games will pit Little Silver against Shrewsbury, Red Bank against Middletown, Rumson against Fair Haven and Oceanport against Monmouth Beach.In the beginning, it was just a group of Little Silver friends who took to the turf for some post-holiday pickup football. The opposing team was from neighboring Shrewsbury.“When we first started playing as 12-year-olds back in 2002, I’m not sure we ever thought it would get to this point,” Brandt said. “Bragging rights were all we were worried about back then. But it’s come a long way.”Brandt learned early on about Little Silver’s deeply embedded, but friendly, rivalry with Shrewsbury.“When you’re growing up in those towns, the rivalry is seen and felt everywhere,” Brandt said. “It’s in your recreational sports. It’s in the schools. It’s everywhere you look.”“The funny thing about it is, you play against those guys for so long in so many different organized sports and pickup games that you actually start to like them,” Brandt said with a laugh. “Then you get to high school and your sharing classes with them and you can’t figure out why you were ever rivals in the first place.”Brandt said as the friendships grew, so did the traditional game itself. In their high school years, friends and family began attending, some to tailgate, other to mingle, and all to lend voice to their respective cheering sections.In college, though the distance between them increased, it was the game that helped maintain the bond between the friends. And each year the audience continued to grow.In 2013, Athlete’s Alley of Shrewsbury starting equipping players with personalized team jerseys, giving the day its own uniform. Inspired by the all the participation, Brandt formed a partnership with Lunch Break and over the next two years raised nearly $2,000 for the organization though small donations from those who played in and attended the game.“It was a nice start, but I thought we could do more,” said Brandt.Between 2015 and 2017 the series’ organizers pledged $10,000 donations to Lunch Break and hit their mark each time.In 2016, the traditional game was expanded, offering games for men, women and children from Little Silver and Shrewsbury.Last year, players who participated in the RIvalry Series raised $10,000 for Lunch Break of Red Bank. Photo courtesy Rick BrandtThis year donations are pouring in and Brandt expects the Rivalry Series will have raised $50,000 for Lunch Break by week’s end.One day, Brandt, working with his brother Rob Brandt, would like to see Rivalry Series expand even more and include teams from every part of Monmouth County.“We’re calling it the Rivalry Series, and we did that on purpose, because I’m not sure I want to limit this to just football,” Brandt said.“Down the line, I have no doubt that we can run basketball and softball events and have them be successful. There are so many different sporting events we can launch and then you’re really talking about a lot of money being raised and a lot of good being done in our community.”Rivalry Series Schedule of EventsFriday, Nov. 23The GamesBoys & Girls (3rd & 4th grade), 9 a.m.Boys & Girls (5th & 6th grade), 9 a.m.Boys & Girls (7th & 8th grade), 9 a.m.Men 35 & older, 11 a.m.Women 18 & older, 1 p.m.Men 18-34 years old, 3 p.m.After PartyVal’s in Rumson, 7-10 p.m.For more information or to register for competition visit therivalryseries.com.This article was first published in the Nov. 22-27, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.