Schmoldt: A celebration of rivalries--old, new or otherwise
Rivalries just aren’t what they used to be.
Then again, what is when it comes to high school football? This year we’ll have three games before most students even set foot in a classroom. The Big Eight Conference will play all its games on a Thursday night—twice! And folks in this part of the state are getting a chance to practice their punctuation marks with the new co-op, Delavan-Darien/Williams Bay.
Sometimes things change, and that’s OK. As we celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the battle for Monterey Rock, we’re all about embracing rivalries, whether they’re new or old. And you can read all about them in the following pages of our annual preview section.
For me, the past few weeks have been all about learning more about our area rivalries. And who better than to give history lessons than players, coaches and former sports editors to play the role of professor?
Dave Wedeward spent 46 years with The Gazette, including 39 as sports editor. He witnessed rivalries come and go, while others became a little more watered down.
“I don’t think high school rivalries are anywhere near as intense as that anymore,” he wrote in an email. “According to what Pat Dawson once shared with me, school officials considered having a 2-3-year “cooling off” period in the 1930s (with no rivalry game) since the Janesville-Beloit rivalry has become so intense in the communities and sometimes out of control off the field.”
While the Parker-Craig rivalry is celebrating 50 years, when Wedeward thinks of rivals he thinks of Janesville and Beloit. Schools from the two cities have played against one another every year since 1895.
Wedeward recalled that Edgerton and Stoughton began a longstanding rivalry in 1895, too. That relationship was heated enough that the Tide referenced Stoughton in an old school song that he found in his mother’s Edgerton yearbook from the 1930s. That rivalry streak came to an end at 88 years, however, when the teams parted ways to separate conferences.
“Kids today can’t begin comprehend how big that was, but those about my age and certainly older surely know about it and lived it,” Wedeward wrote. “I know, for years, Edgerton’s whole season rode on what it did against Stoughton and Fort Atkinson.”
Now Edgerton’s top rival in the Rock Valley Conference in Evansville, which co-ops with Albany in football. But the Blue Devils have typically had the Crimson Tide’s number in recent years, and with 10 teams now in one Rock Valley Conference playing a round-robin football schedule, rivalries are shifting and dwindling.
“You know what, in the new Rock Valley, every team is a rival,” said Ron Grovesteen, who has spent 43 seasons coaching in Evansville. “They’ve changed our league so much. Now we’re at 10 teams, so we don’t have a chance to play any nonconference games. Every team we play, it’s a big game.
“Edgerton is always a big game; Brodhead is always a big game. Old school, Turner. But for me, rivalries, it’s been gone.”
Any longstanding rivalries that rivalries that remain standing are almost all based on proximity, and most have survived at least one conference realignment—which is becoming more and more frequent.
Obviously, intra-city battles, like Parker and Craig, are easiest to keep alive.
The best other area example is Elkhorn and Delavan-Darien, which are a few Hail Marys away from each other.
“You talk about big cities having two schools, like an East and West or North and South. We’re closer in proximity and drive than most schools that are in the same city,” Elkhorn coach Tom Lee said. “It’s basically a 10-minute drive.”
Lee has seen the rivalry from both sides. He graduated from Delavan-Darien and has now coached in a handful of close games against the Comets.
“The kids now, it’s the same as when I was there, they know each other,” Lee said. “And the games have always, for the most part, been competitive, and that’s what’s brought about the rivalry.
“I remember watching my older brother and brother-in-law, who is 12 years older than I am. It’s one of those classic games.”
Most of our other area teams have seen their rivalries evolve. And Brodhead/Juda seems to be the prime example.
Dive into papers from the 60s and 70s, and you’ll find some heated games with Orfordville Parkview. But the Cardinals had the upper hand in that series lately, during their stretch of 25 consecutive seasons of making the playoffs. And now Parkview has moved on.
In the 80s and 90s, Evansville and Brodhead fostered quite the rivalry, and there are probably a few grudges still being harbored out there surrounding it. The Rock Valley split meant an end to that yearly series, though there were years they attempted to keep it going by scheduling nonconference games.
And now the Cardinals’ fiercest rival is Walworth Big Foot, if only because the two programs have each made multiple runs to the Division 4 state title game in the past 15 years.
“When I got here, the Evansville rivalry, without a doubt, was a classic. You still hear it now from old players,” Brodhead/Juda coach Jim Matthys said. “I think the Big Foot rivalry got going because in football, for so many years, it was one or the other of us going to the state championship game. It was a respect thing, but it was two good programs—and it spills into other sports—competing against each other.”
Some rivalries have also been hampered by conferences’ inability, or refusal, to schedule them at or near the end of the schedule on an annual basis.
Parker and Craig will play in Week 2 in 2018, before school is even in session.
Shifts in enrollment are inevitable, and they’ll continue to breed more realignment possibilities. That is uncontrollable. Adjusting a schedule to make sure longstanding rivalries are played after the start of school and at meaningful points in the season can be controlled, and conference administrators everywhere should stop overthinking things and make it happen.
We won’t be holding our breath. After all, we’ve got nine weeks—plus the playoffs—to get out and catch some high school football. Whether you’re celebrating 50 years of a rivalry or potentially seeing the start of a brand new one, it’s time to tee it up and have a little fun.
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.