A high school game’s attendance is going to be closer to a 50-50 split, which means that supporters of each team are more likely to encounter each other during their everyday lives, a dynamic that increases the scope of their interest in the outcome.
In a sense, each of the opponents in a high school rivalry is the home team. Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart, a 1973 graduate of that school, knows all about that from his days of playing Rockville school Richard Montgomery.
“Whoever won that got to go to the Hot Shoppes at Congressional Plaza and talk trash for a year,” Kephart said. “If you were in a barbershop in Rockville and Gaithersburg lost that year, you were going to hear about it. It’s community rivalries as much as [football rivalries]. It gives the fans something to care about that they don’t necessarily have those other nine games of the year.”
West Potomac and Mount Vernon are taking that community involvement one step further this season for Thursday’s “Battle for the Highway.” The schools, about four miles apart and with blurry enrollment boundaries along Richmond Highway (Route 1) in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, scheduled a joint pep rally for Wednesday night.
They are partners in other ways, too. A community group is working to have turf fields installed at both schools.
“There are so many kids that have cousins and family that go to Mount Vernon,” said former West Potomac Coach Eric Henderson, who attended Fort Hunt High, which later folded into West Potomac. “It’s one of those deals where for 364 days you hang out and live with Mount Vernon kids, and then that one day of the year it turns into that backyard war.”
Matthew Paul, a senior quarterback-linebacker at Douglass, has grown up with an aversion to rival Gwynn Park, the Eagles’ annual opponent in the “Battle of Route 301” in Prince George’s County. Paul said he has seen Gwynn Park players while shopping at Target, but that they just give each other a look of respectful acknowledgment without any chitchat. There’s no need for it.
“Around the first week of school, everybody always asks, ‘When you all play Gwynn Park? When you all play Gwynn Park?’ ” Paul said. “Any time it’s a Douglass and Gwynn Park game, they stop what they’re doing no matter where it’s at, how much it costs.”
He’s not kidding about the ticket price. Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney was at a Calvert Hall-Friendly game in late October 2005, chatting with Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes. Both men were wearing gear from their respective schools. Because Douglass had been bumped up a classification, that season was the only one in recent memory that the teams were not scheduled to play each other.
A man, spotting the school names or logos on their clothes, approached.
“This is the game I want to see!” he said. “I would pay $20 to see those teams play!”
Others probably felt likewise. At the time, both teams were unbeaten; Gwynn Park was amid a 14-0 season and Douglass would finish 12-1. Both teams outscored the opposition by more than 350 points that season.
“Danny and I just started laughing,” Pinkney said. “We wanted to play each other that year, too. Because it’s always fun. The one year I felt like it probably would have been the biggest game in maybe the history of our rivalry was the year we didn’t play.”