There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned rivalry.
In fact, that’s part of what makes high school athletics — especially football — great. It’s our team against your team. Our school against your school. Our town against your town. Our kids against your kids.
Like anything though, there should be a limit to how far a rivalry goes. We have a natural rivalry here in Barrow County with our two high schools. Winder-Barrow High School has a longer tradition but Apalachee High School has made great strides in the past decade since opening.
There will always be a natural Bulldogg and Wildcat feud. It’s fun actually.
However, I like to remind people that we are all one community. One school system. One county wanting the same thing: the best for our student-athletes. I want WBHS to win all of its games. The same goes for AHS. It all goes back to being part of that bigger community.
The hiring of David Wagner during the offseason as the new WBHS Bulldogg mentor was important for several reasons. First and foremost, he’s a solid football coach who played a big part in the success the AHS Wildcats have enjoyed in recent years, including their region title last fall and trip to the state quarterfinals. AHS coach Shane Davis will quickly tell you as much.
Yet, when WBHS athletic director Justin Grant and principal Al Darby reached out and made Wagner their choice for new head coach, it sent an important message, one that I have been preaching for a long time: “We are one community.”
After Wagner was hired, we talked about the natural rivalry between the schools and how he thought his hiring would affect it.
“With the exception of one game, I want Apalachee to win every Friday,” Wagner said. “I told everyone when I looked into this job if they were looking for someone to hate Apalachee and talk about the school at all turns, then I wasn’t the person for the job. I am still interested in how the kids at Apalachee do. I look forward to hearing their results on Friday nights. One week of the season, I want to be beat them. However, I’m not pulling for Apalachee to go 0-10.”
The decision to hire Wagner, as well as all those in authority who supported the move, was a very positive signal for Barrow County. It showed that while the schools may be rivals on the gridiron and in other arenas, we are still one school system and one community. I think that’s probably more important today than it ever has been.
In working on the feature story for this year’s football preview section, I was granted access into the world of coaching only a handful probably know about. Sure, many will admit there is more to coaching than just practice and games. Yet, only a select few truly understand the roles coaches like Wagner and Davis play in our community. The influence each one has stretches far beyond the final score on Friday night. Davis has poured his heart and soul into the AHS program making it a perennial playoff contender. Wagner will put that same level of commitment into the WBHS program, using much of the recipe which has cooked up success at the county’s other high school and where he also played such a vital role. They’ll meet on the gridiron Oct. 29. For three hours on a Friday night the rivalry can be fun. Yet when the game is over, we will once again be one community working together for that one common goal.
We have two strong leaders in charge of our local football programs. They know what’s important and what needs to be stressed. Barrow County is fortunate for their leadership right now without a doubt.
Chris Bridges is sports editor of the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.