There are a great many adjectives heaped on sports, and amateur athletics in particular. Commentators, coaches and fans hold lofty goals for their teams that include words like sportsmanship, integrity and tradition.
But nothing puts the higher aspirations of the sport to the test like a good old-fashioned football rivalry.
Football rivalries bring out the best – and the worst – from the schools that play in them. “Hate” may be a strong word in some polite conversations, but isn’t inappropriate to describe the feelings between some fan bases.
Schools reported varying traditions surrounding their most loathed (or in some cases least-loved) opponents. At times, the W-L columns are so lopsided in favor of one team it wouldn’t be unreasonable to question whether a word like “rivalry” really applies.
It certainly does, the coaches say.
The Dunwoody High and Chamblee High game has a more balanced record than most. Going into the Aug. 30 game, both teams have seven wins. Dunwoody spanked Chamblee in its last two games, winning by a combined score of 70 to 6.
Understandably, the victims of such abuse at the hands of a rival might have a chip on their shoulders.
Chamblee coach Allen Johnson said students take the game seriously.
“They do. They do,” he said. “With Twitter and Facebook, they go back and forth with each other. It’s a big deal around here.”
One thing appears to be a key ingredient of a good rivalry: familiarity.
At Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School and Riverwood International Charter School, the teams’ rivalry has an interesting twist. Holy Innocents’ only has a practice field and has to play its home games at Riverwood. The series known as “The Battle of Raider Drive” is short, but Holy Innocents has owned it, winning three of the last four. The next game is set for Sept. 7.
Holy Innocents’ Coach Ryan Livezey said the stadium isn’t the only thing the two teams have in common.
“We have some of the kids that either would’ve gone to Riverwood but came over here in middle school,” Livezey said. “We’re very familiar with one another. Offensively, we’re very similar with what we do.”
The game is accompanied by a picnic and in the past Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos has provided the coin toss.
Livezey said the teams play each other hard. Neither team scored more than 17 points in a single game. He said he’s thankful the rivalry isn’t ugly. The football on the other hand ….“None of the four games have been pretty,” Livezey said. “It’s come down to really which team makes the fewest mistakes.”
And “ugly” might be a kind word to describe one of Buckhead’s most infamous rivalries, the game between Westminster and Lovett, two of the communities’ most prestigious private schools. The series has a record of 16 to 8, or 14 to 9, depending on which school you ask. Westminster says its 16 to 8, a statistic backed up by the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
But Perry McIntyre, Sports Information Director for Lovett, said two of the games in question were actually junior varsity games and not varsity games.
“Westminster and Lovett are never going to agree on anything,” McIntyre said
Westminster has won the last three and the next matchup is on Nov. 2.
The actual series goes back more than 30 years, but “The Battle of Buckhead” became so heated that it was suspended from 1982 to 1993. Lovett beat Westminster in 1980 for the first time in the series. The next year, Westminster thrashed Lovett, 31-0.
Joe Sturniolo, assistant coach for Westminster, said Lovett parents accused Westminster of running up the score. Eventually the argument escalated into a fight – or as it’s known in Buckhead, fisticuffs – and both sides mutually agreed that parents were taking things way too seriously.
Sturniolo said he’s not aware of any problems since the schools began competing again. They are generally friendly and team up to sell T-shirts for the game as a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser.
Even though the hostility has subsided, the community still stews over Buckhead football’s hottest contest, Sturniolo said.
“If you go to Tommy’s Barbershop, people who don’t even go to the school have an interest in the game,” he said. “To be honest, to the coaches it’s another region game, but the kids don’t always see it that way.”
McIntyre said the parents take the game more seriously than the students.
“There is some truth to the alums and parents being more caught up in the rivalry than the actual students,” McIntyre said. “On game day, of course, players for both teams are a ‘notch up’ intense for the game.”