By Joe Severino, RealWV
A feature story celebrating Dunbar’s 75th Annual Commode Bowl will air on national television before the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers face off Thanksgiving Day on FOX at 12:30 p.m.
A tradition dating back to November 1948, residents hold a fun, upbeat parade down Dunbar Avenue mid-day on Thanksgiving. It’s followed by a tackle football game at Dunbar Middle School (formerly Dunbar High). Canned goods and other donated items are collected at the game.
The Kanawha County city is split by train tracks, which marks the territory for each team – the Hillside Rams to the north, and the River Rats to the south. The teams compete to bring bragging rights back to their side of the tracks.
Commode Bowl organizer and longtime Hillside player Dave Wallace said members of FOX’s NFL broadcast team reached out to put together a short documentary feature for the game’s 75th Anniversary. Wallace said FOX was interested and impressed to see a tradition span this long.
Organizers arranged a Rams-Rats scrimmage on Sunday afternoon so the network’s video team could gather film. The real Commode Bowl will still be played Thanksgiving Day at 1 p.m., with the parade beginning at noon.
“This is tradition,” Wallace said by the tracks on Sunday. “To have this going on for 75 years – It’s taken a lot to keep it going. It’s hard to do.”
Wallace first stepped onto the field for the Rams in 1983, and will play in his 40th consecutive Commode Bowl on Thanksgiving.
“This is something that’s kind of been bled into me, my kids, my grandkids,” said Wallace. “Thanksgiving Day is all about the Commode Bowl.”
The annual game still draws sizable crowds, but Dunbar is one of the many West Virginia towns suffering from substantial population loss through the years, Wallace said. Currently, about 7,300 people live in the city, whereas in 1990, the population was more than 8,700.
Wallace said it’s important for the town to hold on to all traditions they can, as many cherished community events have gone away over time.
“This is the history of Dunbar now, because we don’t have much going on. This Commode Bowl game is kind of it,” he said.
When the Rats and Rams take the field Thanksgiving Day, the feature will have aired earlier that morning, which seemingly will juice the atmosphere for the 75th gathering. The national exposure for the Commode Bowl is a long time coming, said Wallace. But mostly, he’s looking forward to having fun on one of his favorite days of the year.
“It’s a good day to get out and have some fun, hit somebody, then go home and eat some turkey,” he said.
The Commode Bowl tradition has also won over town newcomers. Kevin Todd, who moved to riverside Dunbar about three years ago, instantly became a fan.
“I got invited, came here, loved it,” Todd said. “Loved it because it’s raw. It’s fun. It’s family. It’s community.”
Todd donned an inflatable toilet costume Sunday, and said he planned to be in attendance on Thanksgiving. He said he’s lived in many places in the country for his work, but has genuinely enjoyed his time in Dunbar and West Virginia, where he works across the state as a route driver.
“What a beautiful bunch of people,” Todd said of the community that’s taken him in. “I mean, I love West Virginia so much. I don’t know why I didn’t move here years and years and years ago.”
As for the game itself, the River Rats will be looking to avenge a 28-6 loss to the Rams in 2022.