End of rivalry spoils fun

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, February 3, 2018

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While getting ready to take my wife and daughter to breakfast on a November Saturday morning in 2009, my phone rang.

On the other end of the line was a lively Decatur football coach Kyle Story. Before I could get out the words hello, Story was voicing adamantly his concerns about one of the articles in the paper about the previous night’s game against rival Bridgeport. The only problem was the article was not mine.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

This was my introduction to the Battle of Big Sandy and how emotions in this rivalry ran high on both sides of the creek. Nearly a decade later, I’ve had a chance to take in the battle between the Decatur blue and the mighty maroon of Bridgeport seven times. Though the first two went the Bulls’ way, the past five I’ve been to have swung heavily the other way.

Starting in the fall, I heard the rumors that this could be the last meeting. But selfishly as an outsider with no dog in the hunt, I wanted to see it continue. Why? Because it’s fun.

My high school unfortunately had no rival. To tell the truth, until UT-San Antonio got a football team, my proud alma mater, the University of North Texas, didn’t either.

Luckily in my professional life, I’ve had a chance to report on some fantastic rivalries: Pilot Point and Celina; Pilot Point and Aubrey; and maybe one of the best, primarily because of the food, the Kraut Bowl – Muenster and Lindsay. In most, the phrase “throw out the records” is appropriate.

From the sidelines I’ve seen rivalries bring out the best and, unfortunately sometimes, the worst when a little good nature fun goes too far – spray paint is never good. But usually an underdog will find a little extra that night, seeing the colors of an opposing team they grew up with disgust for on the opposite side of the ball. It’s also the games that are most memorable, win or lose.

When Decatur and Bridgeport, ended up in different divisions with the split of 4A in 2014, then Bridgeport Athletic Director Danny Henson joked about the rivalry: “They told me they’d fire me if I didn’t schedule [Decatur]. But why would we not want to play in such a game?

“We’re excited and honored to play in such a game. The kids at Bridgeport and Decatur are lucky to play in a game like this. You are guaranteed one big game per year with a lot of excitement. You have to go a long ways in the playoffs to find an atmosphere like this.”

Carl Abseck, the current Cedar Park coach who was a senior in 1991 at Bridgeport when the Big Sandy series last stopped, recalled his sentiments in 2014: “It was very disappointing to not have an opportunity to take part in such a great rivalry. I remember growing up and looking forward to that game every year as one of the most exciting games to go to and cheer for the Bulls.”

Now, Abseck will be joined by future classes at both schools that will not get a chance to run out to the field before a sea of blue and maroon.

Things do change, even in rivalries. Heck, Texas and Texas A&M don’t even play anymore (why I don’t know). Word is this may be the final go-around for Pilot Point and Aubrey.

Sherman and Denison, who are now in separate divisions, have found a way to keep the Battle of the Ax going for a 120th edition. They will play in the season opener.

Moving forward, the season opener may be an option for Decatur and Bridgeport to once again meet. It would eliminate some of the concerns about the disparity in enrollments and its affect at the subvarsity level – playing before the middle schools hit the field.

Decatur (1,054) currently has a 400-student advantage on Bridgeport (651), swaying the scales, and it may never be feasible for the two to meet again or in the near future.

Then again, as John F. Kennedy pointed out “Why does Rice play Texas?” along with posing the question of why our nation should strive to go to the moon.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too,” Kennedy said.

But we don’t go to the moon anymore either – again, things change.

Here’s hoping somehow the rivalry can renew – even with a morning phone call.

Richard Greene is the editor of the Messenger and a longtime sports writer.

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