I REALLY DON’T LIKE HAGERSTOWN. I mean, I like the town and I like the people who live there – I just don’t like “them”.
I grew up in the heart of Wayne County, a proud student at Centerville High School; and when you’re smack dab in the middle of the Tri Eastern Conference, you spend your seasons dealing with Cambridge City Lincoln, Union County, Union City, Winchester, and Northeastern.
At every school, there is another school that is considered to be your rival. You know people who live in the town; you know kids who attend the school; you may even have strong friendships with them.
But when it comes to sports, you just want to beat them each and every time your school takes the field or floor.
For me, that was Hagerstown.
At Centerville we had good seasons and bad seasons, but most of the time a season was determined by the answer to one question.
“Did you beat Hagerstown?”
If you did, then you had a good year.
If you didn’t, even if you had a very, very successful season, then it really wasn’t that good.
(For the sake of disclosure, Switzerland County’s Rick Lewis is a Hagerstown graduate, and he would probably tell you he feels the same about Centerville).
My problem with Hagerstown runs so deeply, when I was offered the editor’s job at Vevay Newspapers in 1984, I first drove down to Vevay to check out the town and the school to make sure that the Pacers colors weren’t purple and gold.
If they had been, I may not be here today.
I remember when Centerville and Hagerstown squared off in any sport, especially football and basketball, it was the biggest event of the season. One great night in the Hagerstown gym both teams were locked in a tight battle. I remember that Hagerstown had this toilet plunger with a gold rubber head and the handle wrapped in purple streamers.
When the opposing team would get down and have to call a timeout, the Hagerstown student section would rise and scream, and at some point, someone would take the plunger, wave it over their head, and run around the gym to bring the home crowd to a fever pitch.
That happened my senior year, and I remember that game and I remember that timeout. I remember the plunger going up in the student section and someone beginning to run around the gym.
I also remember the guy making it as far as the Centerville student section, where the plunger was taken away, thrown up in the Bulldog students, where it was taken apart and destroyed, the pieces thrown out onto the court.
Man, I love rivalries.
I tell you all of this because last Saturday night we saw the resurrection of the rivalry between Switzerland County and Rising Sun.
I don’t know if it’s because of computers and Skype and more kids having access to cars, but over the past several years it seems as though rivalries among schools have gone away. Everybody knows everybody; so it’s not much of a deal that your school is playing their school.
But earlier this year things began to simmer a bit after a Switzerland County boys win here; followed by the Lady Pacers avenging a loss early in the year with a win in the Rivertown; followed by the Shiner boys defeating the Pacers in the Rivertown.
This week it hit full boil, when the Shiner boys defeated Switzerland County this past Saturday; and the Lady Shiners defeated the Lady Pacers on Tuesday night.
In both cases, Rising Sun retained possession of the “Ruler of the River” trophy, the traveling trophy awarded to the winner after each boys and girls varsity basketball game. When the trophy headed back to Rising Sun on Tuesday night after the girls game, it meant that the Shiners will lay claim to being the “Rulers of the River” until basketball starts again in November.
The trophy has never spent the summer in Rising Sun before, because it’s always stayed here at the end of the season; so Switzerland County will have to wait about 10 months before they have the chance to bring the trophy back home.
You see, there’s nothing wrong with a rivalry, as long as everyone keeps it in perspective.
Like Saturday, there was a lot of build up heading into the game, with Facebook buzzing and people talking. When the two teams hit the floor, they all went full throttle for 32 minutes. When it was over, Rising Sun celebrated and Switzerland County had a long drive home; but before anyone went anywhere, people in orange sweatshirts and blue sweatshirts gathered on the floor and in the lobby and talked about the kids and jobs and church and what movies they’d seen and all sorts of things.
Yes, it was a big rivalry game, and bragging rights were certainly on the line, but once the ‘game’ was over, everyone seemed to understand that it was over and everyone was able to congratulate each other and move on.
After all, we are talking about teenagers playing a game. They aren’t responsible for the well being and future of each community; and it’s nice to go and root for “our kids” and yell and scream at the referees and celebrate with our neighbors and cry with them later; but at the end of the contest, we can all talk about how much fun it was – and “wait until next time”.
We need some good, old fashioned, rivalries like we had with Rising Sun and now have again. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as everyone keeps in mind that the sun comes up tomorrow; and that we all share much more in common than we have differences.
At Tuesday night’s girls game, I was happy to see so many kids on both teams whom I know or whose parents I know. At times I had trouble figuring out who I was supposed to cheer for; but quickly I remembered that as much as I love those people up river – I have a daughter who lives there, you know – I will always be cheering on our Pacers.
In fact, a couple of years ago my planets collided when Switzerland County played Centerville in girls softball in the Sectional. No worries, because I wore my orange and cheered for our girls. It was a little weird seeing people I went to high school with who had kids on the Centerville team; but never once did I “turn back the clock” and cheer for the Bulldogs.
It’s nice to see the revival of the Switzerland County-Rising Sun basketball rivalry this season; and here’s hoping that it grows in the years to come.