An important part of high school football in the south is competing against your “rival”. Most rivals have competed against each other for years. They are rivals because of proximity or maybe because of great games between the two. Every high school team needs a rival.
Most rivalries are best when both teams have success, but many rivalries have been dominated by one team. The rivalry remains heated because the lesser of the two teams just lives for the chance to beat the other.
Rivalries are lived out for an entire year. If your team won, you have “bragging rights” until the game is played again. Coaches are often fired because of their lack of success against that hated rival. Players understand the importance of the game. They have lived the rivalry since they could walk and talk, and have attended and cheered their team on for years. For many teams, the big game is in the back of the minds of the players for the entire season.
One thing that is unique about rivalries is that often the players know each other. That is particularly true when the schools are in the same community or maybe small towns that are in close proximity to each other. Many times, the players from each team compete with the same passion that their fathers competed against each other a generation before. In some cases, the two teams may “intermarry” with a former player from one school marrying a cheerleader for the hated opponent. When they have a son, where that son goes to school is a big deal. Some former great players from one school have been practically blacklisted because there son went to the rival team.
If a team is not having a great season, an upset victory over your rival can be a victory remembered for years and make your season. But occasionally in a special time, both teams will have a great season and meet at the end of the year, touching off a frenzy between the two communities unlike anything ever seen.
Some great rivalries have been lost to consolidations of schools. Clay County and Lineville, Hazelwood and Courtland, Coffee and Bradshaw, and Stevenson and Bridgeport which became North Jackson High School, are rivalries that had been fierce in the past that no longer exist. Most recently Dothan High School and Northview have consolidated to form the new Dothan Wolves.
Often when rivals are both good and are in the same classification, they may meet in the playoffs. That can be a hard game for fans, players, schools and communities alike because of the great pressure to win. The first championship game every played was the 4A game between arch rivals Lee and Lanier in 1966. The game saw Lanier crowned champion with a 9-7 victory in Cramton Bowl. In 1996, Clay County and Lineville were pitted against each other in the 2A state finals. Although just 6 miles apart, the two rivals were placed in different areas, one in the south and one in the north. Clay County had defeated the Aggies 21-0 in the final regular season game. But Lineville was no much for a Clay County dynasty in the championship game in Birmingham, losing 42-0. It’s one thing to lose, but something else to watch your rival celebrate the state championship. That’s just torture!
But may be the best thing about rivalries is that if you lose, you have 365 days to suffer, regroup and use the loss as motivation for the next season. Put it on the bulletin board, paint it on the field, put a sign in the locker room, but coaches will make their team suffer by looking at that score every day for a year.
Everyone needs a rival. If your team has one, be thankful and cherish the games, especially the wins. Have respect for the opponent, the history, the traditions and the passion that it brings to your school and community.
Just make sure you win!