TOP 10 THE TRISTATE'S RIVALRIES

Choosing the top rivalries is an inexact science, but here are Cincy editors' picks, in alphabetical order. Some, like the area's great girls teams, have to be viewed as clusters.

Let the debate begin. Tell us what you think on Cincy's Facebook page or send an email to letters@cincymagazine.com.

"¢ Anderson - Turpin

"¢ Beechwood - Newport Central Catholic

"¢ Boone County-Ryle

"¢ Colerain - Greater Catholic League

"¢ Covington Catholic - Highlands

"¢ Elder - LaSalle - Moeller - St. Xavier

"¢ Hamilton - Middletown

"¢ Indian Hill - Wyoming

"¢ Lakota East - Lakota West

"¢ McAuley - Mercy - Mount Notre Dame -Seton - St. Ursula - Ursuline


 
Comedian Gary Owen, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, jokes that Cincinnati is the only city in America where people don't ask what college you went to, but rather what high school. It's mostly about athletics, particularly football.

"You'll see somebody at Kroger, and he'll be like, 'Hey man, where'd you go to high school? Princeton? We whooped you back in '76!' These guys remember every play," Owen says.

Local sports radio personality and New Jersey native Mo Egger agrees. "I'll never forget when I moved here," he says, "popping on the local TV news on a Friday night and seeing 15 minutes devoted to high school football highlights." Where Egger grew up, high school football got very little TV coverage. "You might get the score of the state title game. It still amazes me."

So passionate is the following for prep football, Egger says, that in the past it may have overshadowed the University of

Cincinnati's football program. "At least before the Brian Kelly years," he notes.

He believes the situation is pretty unique to the Tristate.

While Texas gets a lot of national attention for its devotion to high school football, it's Greater Cincinnati that has some of the best high school football in the nation, which feeds school spirit that extends beyond the field to students, parents and alumni.

"One of the ways our alums keep up with the school is through the athletic program," says St. Xavier's Director of Media andPublications Mark Motz, a 1987 St. X graduate. "We broadcast games on our website, and we have people from all over the world listen. We take emails during the game, and we hear from soldiers overseas, guys out of town on business, and college students."

The area's voracious appetite for high school football is rooted in rivalries, some long-standing, others borne of recent meetings between regional powerhouses.



ROOTED IN RIVALRIES

Colerain High School's Cardinals are familiar with both scenarios.

Colerain Athletic Director Dan Bolden says every team in the Greater Miami Conference (GMC) is a rival. "Each week you go out there and beat up on each other, and everybody wants to beat everybody else." He concedes that Oak Hills is probably his school's natural rival. Booster Russ Brewer concurs, but says Middletown might be Colerain's biggest GMC adversary, having handed the Cardinals their only conference loss in 61 meetings, a 42-39 triumph in 2008.

Brewer, however, says the teams from the Greater Catholic League (GCL), which includes storied teams like Elder, Moeller, and St. Xavier, are even greater rivals. The latter comes into Cardinal Stadium Sept. 9 looking to end Colerain's 58-game home winning streak. "They have a sign in their weight room," Brewer says, "that says, 'We Will End the Streak.' But we know about that."

To further stoke the rivalry, both St. X and Colerain were ranked in the preseason USA Today high school football rankings. "It's very exciting," Motz says. "We've had some great match-ups with them over the years."

St. X coach Steve Specht agrees, saying, "There's just a tremendous amount of respect between the kids, the coaching staffs, and the schools. The kids battle their hearts out, and at the end you see them hugging one another, and saying how great the competition was."

They say familiarity breeds contempt, and such is the basis of the rivalry in Anderson Township between Turpin High's Spartans and Anderson High's Redskins. It goes back to 1976, when upstart Turpin opened its doors to alleviate overcrowded conditions at Anderson. In the move, the Redskins lost several quality football players. "My class was the first one to go into the split," says long-time township resident Chris Francis, who also played ball for the Redskins. "(Turpin) kicked our butts for a couple of years." 

In the early 2000's, the balance of power had shifted decidedly toward Beechmont Avenue, and the Redskins dominated. For a few years the two schools didn't face each other on the gridiron. In 2007, the rivalry was reconvened, and this year's match-up will feature two solid programs in a battle for the township bragging rights. Francis has a daughter attending Turpin, and another who will go there next fall. Where do his loyalties lie? "All I care about is a good game, and that no one gets hurt," he says.

 

BLUEGRASS BATTLES

Across the river in Northern Kentucky, there are numerous high school football rivalries, with one of the fiercest being the Highlands Bluebirds versus the Covington Catholic Colonels.

"It's akin to the Red Sox and Yankees," says former player and current Park Hills resident Michael Murphy. "My senior team," he recalls, "was predicted to win the 1992 AAA state championship after beating Highlands, 42-21, at Highlands in t

he regular season, but lost to the Bluebirds in the state quarterfinals, 14-7. It was a rainy Saturday that I'll likely never forget."

Oddly, it was a Bluebird loss to the Colonels in 1997 that stands out for Mike Hagedorn, a 1988 graduate of Highlands. The "Mud Bowl" was played at Highlands. "It was a playoff game, and they played it in the rain. It was a total mess." The game went into two overtimes before CovCath triumphed, 41-36.

Hagedorn never played football for Highlands, but his 10-year-old son hopes to. "He plays junior football in Fort Thomas," says Hagedorn, who helps coach his son's squad. Occasionally Highlands coach Dale Mueller will run practice for the youngsters. He ends the workouts the same way he does for the varsity team. "He does a cheerof, 'Beat CovCath,' with the kids,'" says Hagedorn.

The contests are so intense partly because Highlands and CovCath are two of the most dominant teams in the Commonwealth. "In a year when both teams are good," says CovCath coach David Wirth, "we know we're going to play them twice." That's because in order to advance in the playoffs, the two teams often face each other in the postseason.

Murphy notes that the CovCath/Highlands big-school rivalry is matched in intensity by the small-school rivalry at Dayton and Bellevue. "They're river towns next to each other in Campbell County," Murphy explains. "Both are small schools, very few players, but the cities live and die by their teams, and their game is usually a huge event every year."

DIVIDED LAKOTA, POWERHOUSE GCL

Back in Ohio, another intra-suburban rivalry has taken shape. Lakota East and Lakota West opened in 1997, as the old Lakota High School was decommissioned and turned into a freshman school/early childhood development center.

Since the split, the rivalry has been hard fought. It has been a fairly even series, though each school seems to win in streaks. East coach Rick Haynes isn't quite sure why. West has won the last several meetings, but Haynes, a former assistant at Colerain and a Turpin grad, looks forward to hosting the meeting Oct. 28. "We're looking to change that." Always a marquee event in West Chester and Liberty Township, it's a packed house.

When people outside of the area talk about Ohio high school football, they usually bring up the teams of the GCL, namely Moeller, Elder and St. X. In the 1970s and '80s, Moeller dominated. It gained national attention by regularly finishing at, or near, the top of the national rankings.

According to Elder alum Rodger Pille, everyone in the GCL wanted desperately to beat Moeller. Toward the end of the '80s and into the early '90s, the Elder Panthers were able to do that, further exciting their rabid fan base. Pille, who never played for Elder, is today a season ticket holder. Tickets for games at "The Pit," the team's home field in Price Hill, are not easy to come by. "There's a crazy long waiting list," Pille says. "Families actually will their season tickets to their next of kin."

For Pille, Elder football easily supersedes the NFL Bengals. "When given the choice of what football team to follow," he says, "I'm definitely choosing the kids that are out there truly putting in all the sweat, all the work, entirely for themselves and the pride of the school. And there's nothing more pure to me, or more interesting, than watching high school kids play their hearts out every week."

Though many fellow GCL teams have caught up to it, Moeller remains a tough competitor. Moeller athletic director Barry Borman says the game against St. X is circled on the calendars of most supporters. The kids "come from the same neighborhoods," he says. "They grew up together. The families all know each other, and that makes for a strong competitive spirit."

While these noteworthy rivalries get the attention, great football is being played all over the region. Every school has at least one rival, and on a Friday night in the Tristate, school spirit burns hotter than the Texas sun.