OPINION: Great high school rivalries have some things in common

OXFORD – It was only fitting that when Bishop Guertin High School won its first Turkey Bowl in 17 years, Nashua High students would steal the Turkey Bowl trophy that same weekend.
In a crosstown rivalry between New Hampshire catholic and public schools, that was only one event out of the countless many that made the rivalry so unique.
Nashua High and BG would play each other in football every Thanksgiving morning – in the rain, snow, mud and bitter cold – for the final game of their seasons.
In 2004, the football rivalry – the most popular of all the sports – ended when a second Nashua public high school opened and replaced BG in the annual game.
In Northeast Mississippi, a crosstown rivalry will resume tonight despite both teams playing in different classifications this year. Oxford High has moved up to Class 5A, while Lafayette County has stayed put in Division 2-4A.
Both head coaches still believe the rivalry will be just as intense.
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Johnny Hill, who is in his 17th season at Oxford. “It’s still the Crosstown Classic. It used to be like that when we were in 4A and Lafayette was in 3A.
“I don’t think it’s going to change the intensity. It’s very competitive. It’s usually a tight ballgame that you see a lot of excitement in.”
The Nashua High-BG rivalry was intense despite BG playing in a smaller division than the larger Nashua High School, and was just as intense despite Nashua High owning its city rival with a 27-4-1 all-time advantage.
The Lafayette-Oxford one is a little bit closer, with LHS holding a 21-15-2 edge in the football series.
Now, I don’t condone these things, but the following characteristics are what I consider to make for a great high school crosstown rivalry:

Familiarity
While Nashua High is a public school, BG is a catholic school that draws students from all over southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. However, the majority of the students who attend BG are from Nashua.
I grew up in Nashua and attended BG after attending Nashua public schools from K-8. I grew up playing youth sports with the boys who would eventually suit up for Nashua High.
But when BG and Nashua High met on the playing field, those friends of yours from the neighborhood wanted nothing more than to beat your BG team and then rub your face in it.
The same scenario likely applies to the Lafayette-Oxford rivalry.
“They go to church with each other,” Hill said of the Oxford and Lafayette football players’ relationships with one another. “They’re good friends and some of them are kin folk.”

Stereotypes
Perhaps the biggest factor in what made the BG-Nashua High rivalry so intense was the stereotypes of each school.
Nashua High students viewed the BG students as being rich preppy types who couldn’t stick up for themselves. There were some other choice terms that they used to describe the catholic school’s students, but we won’t go there.
In return, BG students considered the Nashua students to lack intelligence and to someday take orders from them in the workplace.
That was evident by the BG students chanting, “That all right, that’s OK, you will work for us someday,” during their basketball team’s losing efforts against NHS.
The stereotypes only add to the intensity among the fans and players.

Bitter repugnance
I hate to use the word hate – I just did twice, though – but a very strong dislike of one another adds to the magnitude of a rivalry.
When Nashua High students would drive by the BG football team’s practices and stick their heads out the window to yell obscenities, then there’s an obviously strong level of spite in the rivalry.
Those drive-bys would happen all too frequently, causing Guertin players to retaliate with the one-finger salute as the car horns blasted and an explicit rant was headed their way.
Sometimes, the strong dislike for each other leads to physical confrontations. Just ask former BG football player Jeff McComish, who was at a Burger King restaurant, following a BG-Nashua High hoops game in 1988, when things got ugly.
“Words were exchanged as I was wearing my letterman jacket,” McComish wrote in an email. “Nothing physical occurred until we got into my Chinese blue Subaru, and they then unleashed their wrath by smashing my driver side door and hood.”
Unfortunately, there were other incidents.
The aggression and bitterness, however, would lead to tremendous athletic atmospheres and some great games.

Prank war
What’s a high school rivalry without some pranks involved?
Some classic pranks involving the two schools – which are located just one exit away from each other on the highway – include: burning the other school’s athletic fields to resemble the shape of certain things we won’t name, painting the rival school’s athletic complex their own school’s colors (e.g. Nashua High would paint BG’s purple since NHS’ colors were purple and white), vandalizing BG’s green and yellow busses, and stealing trophies.
“How could I forget?” asked my older brother, Fritz, when recalling how the 2000 Turkey Bowl trophy was stolen from his class reunion at a Nashua restaurant. “An inspired bit of scum baggery.
“The day after we won it for the first time in forever by Nashua High kids – dare I say alums/dropouts? – working our reunion.”

Disregarding records
Finally, the true marking of a great rivalry is that no matter what a team does during the season, what matters most to them is if they beat their rival.
BG could win the Division II state championship, but if it lost to Division I Nashua High, is BG really the best team in the state?
How can you be the best team in the state if you’re not the best team in your town? Don’t you want to be the best overall team in the state?
I, for one, would have rather beat Nashua High my senior year than win the Division II state championship.
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or john.wilbert@djournal.com.

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal