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More than wins, losses

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I am not originally from Sikeston or Charleston but in the 12-plus years I have worked at the Standard Democrat I have grown an appreciation of the rivalry between the two schools. Especially in football, where the two teams met for the 125th time just a week and a half ago.

That is why I was taken aback when I heard there is an effort to put an end to the game. Yes, I realize Sikeston has won the last two games by large margins but sometimes a rivalry is more than just who wins and loses.

That example can be made from the 125th meeting between the two schools. Sikeston came into the game with a wealth of athletes and state-ranked after finishing 13-1 last year, making it all the way to the state semifinals. Charleston went into the game with a new coach, having won only one game last year and with a ton of young, inexperienced players on this year's team. Anyone who went into the game thinking Charleston was going to win, probably doesn't know a whole lot about football.

Still the stands at Sikeston were packed, with Bulldog and Bluejay fans. With the exception of a playoff game, I would venture to guess that the game will have the highest attendance of any home game Sikeston plays all season.

Sikeston did win the game by a large margin and probably could have won by more if starters were left in longer. And yes, Sikeston won big over the Bluejays last year, but the Bulldogs have had a tremendous run of talent the last couple years and have beaten a lot of teams badly.

But it is hard to sustain a run of talent like the Bulldogs have seen. As a matter of fact, just a few years ago, Sikeston was winning only a couple games a year and lost to Charleston three years in-a-row. Funny that I didn't hear people clamoring for the end of the rivalry then.

But as Sikeston has proved, teams aren't always down for long. Charleston has been lean on talent and players the last few seasons, but that is beginning to turn around this year. The Bluejays have gained a lot of players, many of them young, and you can see some young talent in the wings.

I realize that wins and losses are a big part of the game, but Sikeston won 17 games in a row against Charleston from 1948-1964. Some of those wins were big, too, with scores like 68-6, 39-0 and 59-0, but still they played year after year and the rivalry continued to grow into one of the best west of the Mississippi River.

However, now people are trying to end the rivalry, and everyone is trying to justify why the two schools, just 20 miles from each other, should no longer play. A recent letter to the editor tried to put it in a mathematical perspective, but just showed how some people don't understand.

The letter informed readers that Charleston is smaller than eight schools on their schedule and they shouldn't win those games. What? Usually the team with the better players win the games. The size of the school just gives teams a bigger pool to find players, but doesn't guarantee a good team. When Charleston defeated the Bulldogs three-straight seasons from 2004-2006 did Sikeston's enrollment drop under Charleston's? For that matter, did Portageville's enrollment increase on Friday night when they beat Charleston?

The argument is also being made that Sikeston play some bigger, St. Louis schools. I understand some of that reasoning, but I don't think you drop a team that you have played 125 times to do it. I understand it is hard to schedule when you are a bigger school that is having success, but do your fans want to travel to St. Louis every week or play teams they've never heard of? Local rivalries draw in crowds, which bring in money and in these hard, economic times that cannot be understated. If you replace Charleston with a team from St. Louis that brings 25 fans are you really doing your school a service?

In the grand scheme of things you can't dismiss the rivalry. I have friends who used to play for Sikeston and talk about their games against Charleston "back in the day." They still show up for every Sikeston/Charleston football game each fall and talk about when they played the Bluejays on a Saturday afternoon. Charleston is even mentioned in Sikeston's school song.

At the same time I know people from Charleston who cringe at the idea of dropping Sikeston from the football schedule. There is even a Facebook page devoted to keeping the game alive, and this is from fans whose team has lost handily the past few seasons.

That just goes to prove a rivalry is more than just who wins or loses. It's the buildup before the game, the tradition of running the game ball from the visiting town to the hometown, the fans, the games of years' past and the talk of what is to come in the future.

Hopefully, the future will include many more Charleston and Sikeston football games. I'm sure Charleston is on the right path to getting better and I truly believe that the game will be competitive again, sooner rather than later.

It would be a shame to lose a rivalry as popular and meaningful as this one over a couple lopsided scores. Sikeston knows all too well how a rivalry with a nearby school can disappear and take years to re-establish. Just ask Scott County Central basketball fans.



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David Jenkins
Sarcasm De Jour by David Jenkins