Head to Head: What’s in a rivalry?

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Oakes: Well, whippersnapper, I have reached a certain level of reluctant acceptance that football rivalries aren’t what they used to be. Some of this is probably a product of our society reexamining how it feels about the us-versus-them culture, and adults regulating kids’ behavior in kind. You probably aren’t old enough to remember it, but, for example, it used to be considered OK to paint your opponent’s goalposts in your own school’s color, or design your own logo at the 30-yard line on their field under cover of night. Now there would a full-scale Congressional investigation of such clever oneupsmanship, for Pete’s sake. Kids would be suspended and shamed. Dagnabbit, back in my day …

In any case, as much as I love the documentary “The Rivals,” which followed the undefeated Mountain Valley and Cape Elizabeth teams leading up to their end-of-season showdown in 2007, I took it as a sign that rivalries, as we once knew and loved them, were dead. While I agree that closeness of competition in the here-and-now is one sign of a healthy rivalry, I’ve long believed that geographic proximity and tradition are a bigger parts of it.

But there’s the problem. Our economy is such that the school next door to you is likely to be in a different league due to its enrollment. And with the Maine Principals’ Association shuffling the classification desk every two years, some of our state’s best rivalries (Biddeford-Thornton, Cony-Gardiner, Waterville-Winslow) have taken a hit. And consolidation killed my favorite one of all, which unless you just landed on a spaceship from Neptune, you know was Jay-Livermore Falls.

With all those extenuating factors on the table, then, new(ish) guy, what do you say is the best active rivalry in our area? I’m going to stick with my RSU 73 roots and say that it’s Spruce Mountain-Leavitt. They share a border on Route 4. They’re pretty much at equal strength. And I can see a general healthy respect-but-dislike developing in other sports where they’re finally playing each other. Agree? Disagree? Speak up, rival of the written word.

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Pelletier: By your definition, we can’t be rivals, since I haven’t been around long enough for us to have developed a history of hatred. Oh, wait, I mean, “competitive equality.”But even you aren’t old enough to remember our region’s longest standing rivalry in its infancy. And it pains me that you haven’t even mentioned them in your list above.

I am of course speaking of the Battle of the Bridge. Lewiston vs. Edward Little. The smell of fallen pine needles and leaves mixed with the scent of impending snow on the frozen tundra of Walton Field on a glistening late fall Saturday afternoon. The classic battles on the equally cement-like yet somehow nostalgic Lewiston Athletic Park before it gave way to fancier digs at Franklin Pasture. The parades. The floats. The rivalry in central Maine.

OK, yes, I know it has been since 2002 that the teams have met in a game more meaningful than my six-month-old girls’ version of, “I said something, now you go.”

But to the teams and players themselves, it always means more. And let’s not forget that just because in the past 12 years the games have not held as much meaning on a state-wide level, that there haven’t been many, many meaningful games between the teams in the past, oh, 120 years.

Gush all you want about “new” rivalries,  and older contests fading. But this one hasn’t gone anywhere, nor will it. Besides, “LewistAuburn” doesn’t flow nearly as nicely as “Jivermore,” nor “LiverJay.”

And how in the wide, wide world of sports did you forget about Oak Hill and Lisbon? Or were you saving that for some sort of ceremonious finale?

Oakes: That’s just the point, and I think you score some points with Lewiston-EL simply on the grounds that they have actually played each other every year in our lifetime. Not many of the surviving rivalries in Maine, even the great ones, can say that.

The only reason I’m going to say no to Devils-Eddies as No. 1 is that while it means a great deal to players and presumably alumni, the communities seem utterly disengaged from it. I shouldn’t be able to arrive at Don Roux Field 15 minutes before game time, as I did two years ago, and have my choice of multiple parking spaces 100 yards from the gate. If a rivalry falls in the woods and nobody’s there to hear it, is it still a great rivalry? I say no.

It needs an identity. I don’t know from one year to the next whether or not the game is on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, for example. That should be automatic. I should be able to set my watch to every step of the week leading up to the game. Lewiston-EL couldn’t carry the, ahem, protective equipment of the Jay-Livermore Falls rivalry in its heyday. Heck, if you spend any time around the 897 (or the 491, in this wireless age), you know that rivalry still exists.

Oak Hill-Lisbon is great right now, but they didn’t meet for lengthy stretches while the Raiders were in Class B. And Route 9 is under construction more often than Hazzard County, so who can even tell where one community ends and the other begins, anyhow?

One parting question, Twin Cities boy: Are there two teams you wish faced off every year, but don’t? For me, that’s easy. Mountain Valley-Dirigo. For selfish reasons I hope the Falcons eventually drop to Class D, where their enrollment allows them to be, and that the schools don’t consolidate. 

Pelletier: I wish I believed that consolidation wasn’t imminent in the River Valley, but alas I feel like we’ll both be alive to see it happen.

Jay-Livermore Falls’ joint venture and subsequent reclassification solved the biggest missing geographic rivalry issue I had by pitting Spruce Mountain and Leavitt against one another again.

And with Lisbon-Oak Hill solved, again thanks to reclassification, Dirigo/Mountain Valley appears to be the only current natural rivalry missing from the slate.

Unless you want to delve into hypotheticals. With as much ire and angst generated by the king of Maine rivalries on the ice (St. Dominic Academy vs. Lewiston), it would be fascinating to turn back the clock to 1957, somehow prevent all of the Saints’ equipment from burning along with its hockey arena, and see where those schools might be today on the gridiron.

You still have that piece of arena ember you snagged after reporting on that catastrophe, old man?

Oakes: Burn, baby, burn.

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