No-Holds Barred When High School Rivals Play Each Other


There are many ferocious high school football rivalries in Arizona including Globe vs. Miami, Show Low vs. Snowflake and St. Marys vs. Brophy Prep.

But none can match the small-town intensity of the annual St. Johns vs. Round Valley gridiron clash.

The battle of neighboring towns is also the state's longest continuing prep football rivalry.

As a former football coach at Show Low High School, my team each year played both the Elks and Redskins. That gave me the opportunity to scout the rivalry battles.

And believe me, they are no-holds-barred wars in which the survivors are the warriors left standing.

The rivalry is especially passionate because it involves more than the players. It draws in most all the two schools' students, teachers, administrators, town bigwigs, scallywags and those who enjoy nothing more than clinching a year's worth of bragging rights over their neighbors.

Adding more kindling to the adversary inferno is the presence of old-timers, parents, grandparents and uncles who once themselves played in the classic.

Story for the decades

The last thing most teenage athletes want to endure is losing to an archrival in front of close relatives who might have decades ago relished a football victory in the same storied match up.

Would you like to sit at the Thanksgiving table listening to Grandpa Slade relish how he beat up on Joe Udall knowing you'd been on the receiving end of an old-fashioned rear-end kickin'?

I think not.

What's unique about small town football rivalries is that you can't find that type of blistering competition in larger Valley high schools because few student athletes attend the same school their parents or grandparents once went to.

My grandson graduated last spring from Goodyear Millennium High School.

Goodness, when I was in high school that campus was only cotton and dairy farms and millennium was a synonym for utopia.

Even cyberspace has gotten into the Skins vs. Elks rivalry act with the addition of an online smack board on which supporters of both teams incoherently slam one another almost daily.

It's amazing what can be written under the disguise of "a forum for discussion" using screen names that are more ridiculous than their posts.

Even lovebirds take sides

In the 1980s, there were rumors we heard at Show Low High School about a smitten lad from St. Johns who was dating a teenage dreamboat from Eagar, where Round Valley High School is located.

Some of my SLHS players, who knew the two, said the pair had "true love" going for them.

But during the week leading up to the game, the lovers agreed to part ways citing conflict of gridiron interests and irreconcilable pigskin differences.

Under the Friday night lights, the two sat on opposite sides of the field cheering their teams. On Saturday morning, however, the two sweethearts picked up where they left off.

Yes, it was true love.

Great time for a bank robbery

In the White Mountains, it's theoretically said that if a bad dude wants to rob a bank without any or undue stress, the downright dastardly deed should go down on the evening the Elks vs. Redskins game is being played.

As the shameful scheme goes, the purloin is best done in the town where the game is not being contested.

The reasoning behind the plot is the robbery would go off without a hitch because no one would be left in town, not even the Gendarmeries.

You see most all residents are enthusiastic team boosters and would be miles away at the site of the big game.

Of course, the last one leaving town is charged with turning out the lights.

We in the Rim Country think Friday afternoon summer traffic on Beeline Highway is horrible. Heat-weary flatlanders, eager to escape the desert's 100-plus temperatures, head toward Payson and clog both Highways 87 and 260.

It's downright nerve-racking.

For one day a year, -- the fall date the rivalry game is played -- the state route connecting St. Johns and Eagar-Springerville is equally as congested with bumper-to-bumper one-way traffic.

Return trips can be wildly celebratory victory parades or, if all doesn't go well for the visitors, the jaunts can turn into something akin to New Orleans funeral marches. But without the jazz -- maybe country and western honkytonk tunes about your pickup being repossessed, your dog running away and your honey finding another beau.

The intensity of the annual skirmish appears to have not lost any of its steam. Friday evening in St. Johns the Skins pulled off a pulsating 35-32 upset of the state-ranked Elks.

Fans in Eastern Arizona are this week calling it "a game for the ages."

But again, aren't they all?

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