Rivalries.

The essence of sport.

Imagine college football without Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, or Army-Navy.

Or college basketball without North Carolina-Duke and Major League Baseball minus New York-Boston, Chicago-St. Louis and Los Angeles-San Francisco.

Just thinking about it erases much of the allure that catches the attention of so many fans. Without those late-season rivalry games, Alabama, Ohio State and the Army would close their regular seasons against Arkansas, Michigan State and Liberty, respectively.

Great games, I guess, but they don’t make you want to grill your favorite sausage, whip up a batch of chili, and fill the house with friends for a loud afternoon.

If these rivalries had never been played, there wouldn’t have been a “Kick-6” – so many people talk about it, but all I remember is that the placement attempt was short and that things got blurry. Or how about the “ten year war” between the state of Ohio and Michigan, when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler clashed with the head coaches.

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We wouldn’t have one of the greatest stories ever told about a time when Hayes and an assistant coach drove back from Michigan and ran out of gas. Hayes refused to stop, even if it meant running out of fuel on a dark road – it was after dark – with ominous weather approaching.

“We don’t stop and refuel,” Hayes told his assistant, who was driving at the time. “And I’ll tell you exactly why we’re not doing it. It’s because I don’t buy a drop of gasoline in the state of Michigan. We’re going to coast and push this g —— car to the Ohio (state) line before I give that state a dime of my money.

How not to want rivalries?

We need rivalries.

In all sports.

At all levels.

Even in high school.

But, in Lake and Sumter counties, it feels like missing out on games – in a variety of sports – that feel like natural clashes. I don’t know if it’s intentional – the reasons coaches and athletic directors often give for not playing against a rival seem legitimate enough – but in a lot of these cases it’s obvious that a team is better than the other.

Former Leesburg star Lance Erving (2) takes a photo as Wildwood's Nate Mikell (5) watches during a 2018 game at the Leesburg Hive.  Games between the Yellow Jackets and the Wildcats are some of the most anticipated by fans every year and are often played in front of standing crowds. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

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Of course, there are times when planning quirks prevent teams from playing each other on a yearly basis. Football, because there are only 10 games in the regular season, would seem to cause the most headache – especially in the higher rankings, where district schedules must be played – when drawing up ‘a calendar.

And in other sports, especially when teams are not in the same district or classification, specific planning requirements can also limit a team’s availability to face a geographic rival.

Those reasons aside, local fans are the biggest losers when rivals don’t.

Take softball, for example.

How good could the matches between Eustis at Mount Dora Christian Academy and East Ridge be? Eustis – the reigning Class 4A state champions – playing MDCA, who has made four trips to the state semifinals since 2016 and played for the Class 2A state title in 2019, and East Ridge, which has one of the programs in recent years in the highest rankings.

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It’s not like they’ve never played before.

Eustis and MDCA last played on April 16, 2019, while East Ridge and Eustis were in the opposing dugout on March 3, 2016. Conversely, MDCA and East Ridge have played in each of the past three seasons, East Ridge l ‘carrying twice.

There are also countless examples in other sports.

On the football field, Lake Minneola and South Lake have not played the previous two seasons. As the District’s opponents this year – following the Florida High School Athletic Association’s reclassification and periodic reclassification process – the Hawks and Eagles will play this year, but it’s a game that should be on the schedule every year. year.

These schools are only about five miles apart. Many students know each other, grew up together, and went to elementary school and middle school together.

The Hawks and Eagles played eight times from 2011 to 2018, with each team scoring four wins apiece.

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It is a game that should be played every year.

Granted, there may be exceptions as football teams play relatively few games, especially compared to basketball, baseball, and softball, which often play more than 20 games in the regular season.

That’s why Leesburg and Eustis have only played 77 times since they first met on the soccer field in 1924.

Certainly, a common date can be found for MDCA and Eustis to meet on the softball field.

Or East Ridge and Eustis.

Tavares – and MDCA – take on Eustis on the basketball and baseball field. They are longtime rivals of the Golden Triangle and are expected to meet on the softball field as well.

Rivalry

It’s a rivalry.

It shouldn’t matter if one program is ‘down’ and the other ‘up’ in terms of skill level.

It’s the cyclical nature of high school sports and that’s how upheaval is born.

Want to know how important and good rivalry games are?

Catch a Leesburg-Eustis, MDCA-Eustis or Leesburg-Wildwood basketball game.

If you can get in through the door.

Leesburg's Eric Coffie (2) fights with Eustis' Robbie Hutchenson (5) in a game on October 30, 2020. Although they haven't played in 2021, the Yellow Jackets and Panthers sport the oldest The region's football rivalry, meeting 77 times between 1924 and 2020, with Leesburg holding a 48-28-1 lead in the series. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

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Gyms are packed and often have standing places. Fans – like gamers – bring their “A” games to these games. They’re loud, electric, and leave everything they’ve got in the gym.

These are games – especially for small communities – that are often talked about for days and even weeks after being played.

They generate a community spirit and increase the pride of its canton.

The right to brag

Not to mention the right to brag.

These games, in fact, have so many advantages that they make the financial aspect seem almost secondary. However, the big doors – many above-average ticket sales – put money in the vaults that help support each school’s various athletic programs.

Simply put, some schools should compete against each other every year in all sports, whenever possible.

Leesburg should still play Eustis, Tavares, Mount Dora, Umatilla and even Wildwood.

The Golden Triangle teams – Eustis, Tavares, Mount Dora, Umatilla and MDCA – are expected to compete on the pitch or on the court.

At the southern end of the county, so are East Ridge, Lake Minneola, and South Lake.

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In Sumter County, South Sumter, Wildwood and The Villages should – and do – play out.

This is something that I believe passionately.

And, surely, I am not alone.

Perhaps with the population explosion that we have seen in Lake and Sumter counties over the past two decades, which has sparked tremendous growth in the region, the importance of rivalry games has lost its luster. .

I hope not.

It’s time to take care of our own.

Let’s rekindle local rivalries.

Write to Frank Jolley at [email protected]