Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rhodes, Jones Knew How To Build A Rivalry

When I was seven years old, I watched Coach Steve Rhodes bring legendary shooting forward Bruce Flowers (pictured to the left/courtesy The Daily Tribune) and the Berkley Bears to Royal Oak Kimball to meet Coach Chuck Jones and the Knights for a District Championship game on a Friday night. Berkley wore their home whites and Kimball wore their road blues, as if that changed the fact it was a Kimball home game. All four sections of the Kimball's court-length bleachers were filled and the floor crammed 10 people deep ringing the court, easily a crowd of 6,000 or more. Kimball and Berkley were already league rivals by decree of mutually-agreed hatred for one another. Berkley owned Kimball in hoops; Kimball was, for many years, the area's 800-pound gorilla in football.

To beat your rival at their own game was the goal of each school. In the mid-1970's, this could have been a Friday night at any Detroit-area school before society 'professionalized' our prep sports. In the game I referenced above, Berkley was shooting the front-end of a one-and-one with less than two seconds left. The official opposite the table went up with his hand to trigger the clock on a missed attempt, which it was, but forgot to drop his hand when it was touched. The clock operator, a Kimball teacher, coach and administrator named Ron Foster, waited and waited until finally starting the clock without the official's signal.

This honest mistake enabled Kimball's Kevin Friesen to get a shot off that rimmed in and out at the buzzer. He might not have ever been able to attempt the buzzer-beating heave if a) the official remembered to drop his hand, and b) the timekeeper had ignored the referee and started the clock when the ball was touched. Had the shot gone down and Kimball upset the mighty Bears, there would have been a grudge carried by Berkley that would have never been forgotten.

This is the alpha and omega of a rivalry. A team's been wronged and there needs to be payback. We've already witnessed a bit of drama and controversy in Oakland County in this year's playoffs. Clarkston's girls fell victim of a comeback on the opening night of the playoffs that might have been aided an official score book dispute that, by rule, was not allowed to be reversed, overturned or penalized. Without indisputable truth, it might not even be an error but simply a dispute that never became fact.

Tonight Oakland County high schools play host to three outstanding boys' quarterfinals. Detroit City plays Auburn Hills Oakland Christian at West Bloomfield. Romulus and Orchard Lake St. Mary's will tangle at Milford High and in a matchup of historic rivals, not to mention outstanding nicknames, Pershing's Doughboys will meet Finney's Highlanders at Ferndale. For as long as I can remember, the Ferndale quarter is a must-see game on a near-annual basis.
As if that's not enough, just 12 miles from the north border of the county, Clarkston takes another shot at getting to the MHSAA's semifinals when it plays top-ranked Saginaw High at Davison.
I can't say which schools win or lose tonight, but one fact is certain, as close to guaranteed this side of death and taxes. A rivalry will emerge. It's just waiting to be born, renewed or stoked a little more tonight. We need more high school rivalries, not less, and with a trip to Michigan State University and the MHSAA boys' semifinal at stake, there's going to be plenty of motivation on each side.
~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and is working on a follow-up title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries!


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