Press Box for 12/9
When I was a kid growing up in Sistersville there were many things we could find to do on a daily basis. Some of them were good and some of them led to trouble. It seems the trouble was the fastest spreading news on the planet. I can remember many times after making a wrong choice my parents would know what I had done wrong before I even walked in the door. So it made it very difficult to try to talk your way out of it.
Fortunate for me and the guys I ran with, there were always sports to keep us straight. It didn’t matter whether it was organized through the school or different neighborhoods having their own teams. You see we didn’t have a junior high or Pee Wee Football, so we did the next best thing; we ran our own program. This made for some great rivalry. There were four backyard football teams is Sistersville. The teams were Gary Owen, Country Club Heights, Happy Hollow, and Riverside Drive. Each had their own field, and we played an eight game home and away schedule. I played for Gary Owen and our field was behind my house on South Wells Street where I grew up, which is now a parking lot for the hospital. Riverside Drive played their home games on River Rat Field which was across from Doc Boone’s house on the north end of Riverside Drive down in the hollow. I wish I could remember the locations of the other fields, but they sometimes changed especially if the field became important to its owner. This meant we were on the hot seat until someone could find a replacement.
Away games in Happy Hollow often led to nervousness on our part before the game. Guys who played for Happy Hollow had earned the reputation as being tough, as well as good athletes. Tough guys were known to throw punches, never back down and were not afraid of anyone. Back in the 60’s it was still considered common practice to smoke, and it wasn’t unusual for one or more of their guys to arrive with a package of cigarettes rolled up in their short sleeves. All the worry on our part was most often for not, and the game played out without a hitch. You could count on one thing playing for Sistersville, regardless of the neighborhood, everybody had everyone’s back. You messed with one of us you messed with all of us. Competing like we did led to many great friendships and many of those friendships still exist today.
Every member of each team did not always have all the necessary equipment to play, but it did not stop the competition. If you didn’t have a helmet for example, you played anyway. There were no referees, no clocks, and no limit on how long the games lasted. We just played until dark. There was no champion declared at the end of the season, just the bragging rights that came with each victory. I think the toughness from the neighborhood athletic events, carried over when we finally got to play on the high school team. Fortunately we had little league baseball and junior high basketball so our neighborhood teams only competed in football. We did, however, set up a track and field event for competition. My good friend, Dana Johnson, decided he was going to compete in the pole vault.
So, we set up a high bar, found a long enough pole, and off he went; however, both the pole and his arm broke in two places. That brought an abrupt end to the track season.
When we finally started playing in high school, it led to a completely different set of rivals. All four Sistersville neighborhood teams came together as one, and we set our sights on other towns, not neighborhoods. Sistersville High School had two main rivals, Paden City and Middlebourne (Tyler Co High School). All were single A schools, and in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s there were many fierce rivalry games between them. We really didn’t like each other very much, and it was obvious during the build-up to game day. Some of the sweetest victories, even if your team was enduring a losing season, were upsets which often lead to knocking your rival opponent out of post season play.
Thursday night was Thuse Night in Sistersville in the middle of downtown and there was nothing else like it. The crowds were large and loud, especially when we were playing either the Wildcats or Red Raiders on Friday. The Sistersville Tiger Marching Band lead by the majorettes played the fight song as they marched straight through town stopping between the news stand and Kay’s Pool Hall. The cheerleaders, the coaches and of course the team joined the group. Chants of “Beat Paden City” or “Beat Tyler County” echoed loudly. Coach Cuppett would speak and always managed to get everybody fired up, even the parents. The next day at school seemed like the longest day of the week in anticipation of the RIVAL game, either home or away. Crowds started to line up at 3:00 for a 7:30 kickoff especially if you wanted a seat. Everybody got in the spirit of playing the rival.
Each town was very successful over the years bringing home state championships. Sistersville won the state football championship in 1953 under Coach George Strager, 1964 under Coach Dale Evans, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, and 1986 all under Coach Lou Nocida. Tyler County won the state football championship in 1983 under Coach John Stender. Paden City won the football state championship in 1970 under Coach Hen Healy and 1979 under Coach Steve Deem. Three of their schools also won State Championships in Basketball, in 1960 under Coach Hen Healy, and 1973 and 1987 under Coach Burton. The 1987 team finished 27-0. With Burton at the helm the Wildcats made seven appearances in the state tournament.
The best example of these rivalries came in 1983 and 1986 when Tyler and Sistersville played each other in the state championship football game. To my knowledge two teams from the same county had ever played each other for the state championship especially two heated rivals. In 1983 Tyler beat Sistersville and the Tigers got their revenge in 1986 beating Tyler.
Times may have changed but rivalries still exist. It’s just the names have changed due to consolidation. Since Sistersville and Tyler Co High School are now one, the newest rival has switched to Magnolia. Over the years this has developed into somewhat of a backyard brawl, as some like to call it.
College rivalries get most the attention today, mainly because of the amount of money that is involved for the schools. Pitt vs. WV, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Alabama vs. Auburn, UCLA vs. USC and Oregon vs. Oregon State are great rivalries in football and don’t forget Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball just to mention a few. In fact the TV networks title certain weekends as Rivalry Weekend, but I have to say we felt the rivalry games we played in high school were just as intense.
Sadly in our communities today many of these traditions I have talked about have faded away, maybe because of consolidation or smaller community population, but it shouldn’t matter. Pulling the school and community together for sports creates a bond that celebrates the hard work of our teens and brings people of all neighborhoods together to cheer for a common goal. Sports often drive our culture and create unity where common ground is sometimes hard to find. We can help bring about this change. Let’s challenge each other to get behind our high schools and help build community support for our students. Our student athletes deserve the opportunity to play their sport in an environment rich with enthusiasm from their hometown. That’s us!