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Colorado Springs area high school rivalries get down and dirty

July 27, 2013 Updated: July 28, 2013 at 8:15 am
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All it takes is two schools, both with an intense desire to compete and win. Over a period of time, the repetitive competition takes on a life of its own.

That's when a rivalry is born.

Around the Pikes Peak region, old and new rivalries bring an extra bit of zest to the playing field. Some schools go way back, such as St. Mary's and Manitou Springs, both in existence before the 1900s. Other matchups have become quite the spectacle in recent years as new programs have flourished.

"One of our guys, I don't know where, but he got a Pine Creek T-shirt and hung it up in our locker room," former Fountain-Fort Carson running back Anthony Davis said. "We looked at it all week, and that made it more intense. That was such a big game. Man, I wish I could go back and do it again."

Fountain-Fort Carson and Pine Creek reside in opposite parts of the county, more than a half-hour between one legendary school in the shadows of Cheyenne Mountain to the other, just 15 years old, on the city's newer northeast side.

That's the power a rivalry holds when both schools build successful programs. Throw out the records, demographics and money, school size and geography. Just put the ball in play, blow the whistle and see who wants it more.

"If it's Doherty and Palmer, there's definitely blood going," said Doherty athletic director Chris Noll, who's entering his ninth year at the post. "We have a rivalry based on respect, and I think that's what Doherty and Palmer have in all sports. I think in all our sports, we have a desire to make sure we beat Palmer."

Palmer, District 11's original school that for years was known as Colorado Springs High School, ruled the city in its infancy and when the Colorado High School Athletic Association started recognizing state champions in 1921. The Terrors didn't have a true city rival until Wasson joined the landscape in 1958. Instantly, the two powers battled back and forth, meeting on the football field 47 times and filling their share of basketball arenas.

And as the city continued to evolve and spread, Doherty, completed in 1976, eventually grew into a 5A powerhouse and chief rival to its neighbor to the south.

Noll typically schedules a boys' and girls' home doubleheader on a Saturday, sometimes with promotions at either venue that make the games even bigger.

"We've done a Hall of Fame presentation, and they retired Reggie Jackson's jersey at one of their doubleheaders," Noll said. "We don't have to publicize that game. Quite frankly, it's usually a great game, no matter what."

In the early days, before open enrollment, neighborhood supremacy was at stake. Wasson and Mitchell, separated by three miles, annually duked it out, no matter the sport. The schools' football rivalry spanned 48 years, the longest in city history, and played the Helmet Game for the final decade before Wasson was shuttered after last school year.

Later, natural rivals were born when original schools got too big, and another was needed in the district. In 1983, Air Academy split its enrollment when Rampart opened in the rapidly growing Academy School District 20. A few years later and many miles south, District 2 opened Sierra to accompany charter member Harrison. In 1997, Mesa Ridge joined Widefield School District 3, where Widefield had stood alone for decades. More recently, Vista Ridge and Palmer Ridge began rivalries with old guards Sand Creek and Lewis-Palmer, respectively.

Today, those backyard battles bring out the best in teams, and attendance. The annual Widefield-Mesa Ridge game is played on Saturday afternoon, preceded by a parade that starts in one end of town and finishes at C.A. Foster Stadium.

Last year, Widefield struggled to a three-win season and Mesa Ridge broke through for its best season in school history, reaching the 4A state semifinals.

So the Grizzlies probably prevailed, right? Wrong. Widefield rallied for a 27-26 victory, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.

"It's a huge rivalry, and you never know who's going to win," said Mike Felice, former Mesa Ridge football coach who also worked as a Widefield defensive coach. "I've lived through them both. It's the only game we play on a Saturday."

The spirit of that rivalry is a common theme, especially when Harrison and Sierra face off.

Last season, Harrison struggled on the football field, winning just one game. It was a 13-12 win over Sierra in the annual rivalry game to win the Superintendent's Cup for District 2 supremacy.

"You have alumni that come to see it," Sierra coach Dean Huffman said. "You've got a community where people as kids have gone, now their kids are going. It was a rivalry then and it hasn't dropped off. There's generations involved.

"It's the No. 1 thing on the kids' minds."

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