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Rivalries make for good sports

Geneseo and Sterling take their longstanding rivalry to a new conference when they meet again today.
Geneseo and Sterling take their longstanding rivalry to a new conference when they meet again today.

Some of the best high school sports rivalries in the Sauk Valley will be renewed Friday on the football field.

Fulton and Morrison, who first played in 1901, will tangle for the 73rd consecutive year at 7 p.m. tonight at E.M. “Bud” Cole Field. Known as the “Wooden Shoe Bowl,” it is one of just two yearly football meetings that have a traveling trophy for the winner; Fulton will play Newman for the Rev. Matt Vander Bleek trophy in Week 9.

Wooden Shoes are a part of Dutch heritage, which is common throughout the western half of Whiteside County. However, an actual wood shoe has only been in the picture for half of the rivalry’s history. The trophy was put together in 1977 by Mustangs sophomore football coaches Ron Roels and Gus Linke, who later became athletic director. The shoe itself came from Morrison custodian Ralph Keiser.

In a published account of the rivalry’s history, Linke wrote that the purpose “was to provide motivation to the intense football rivalry and lend a sportsmanship flavor to the strong Dutch heritage of both communities.”

At the time of the shoe’s debut, the Steamers had won seven straight games in the series, and kept the shoe until 1981. Morrison leads the all-time series 55-28-5, but Fulton has kept the shoe since 2014, having won it to stop a 10-game winning streak by the Mustangs.

For the third straight year, the Wooden Shoe will be up for grabs during Sterling-Geneseo week. Or is it the other way around?

The Golden Warriors and Maple Leafs have been conference rivals since 1942, when the latter joined the NCIC. Both schools made the transition to the Northern Illinois Big 12 in 2010, and made the move together again to the Western Big 6 for this year. However, the two haven’t played football against each other the whole time; they played in divisional crossover games in the 1940s and 1950s, and didn’t become NCIC Northeast Division rivals until 1981. 

Sterling leads the overall series with Geneseo 30-23, but the Maple Leafs are 20-19 since results have had bearing on a conference or divisional standing. They’ll also tangle at 7 p.m. tonight at Bob Reade Field, named after the coach who led the Maple Leafs to consecutive state titles from 1976-78.

I’ll be your guy providing coverage of the game (follow me on Twitter at @CodyCutter35 for updates). It will be my first time covering this rivalry for SVM, but I’ve covered prior meetings before. 

I also have been part of the Sterling-Geneseo from the student perspective, but they are not good memories.

I was a freshman manager on the 2001 team and served on all three levels. Our freshman team lost a close game, something around 10-8, and unfortunately I don’t remember the outcome of the sophomore game that took place before varsity. 

Sterling was 4-3 and needed to win two more games to make the playoffs. That didn’t happen. We wound up on the wrong end of a 55-0 Geneseo shellacking by halftime. An apparent disagreement in coaching philosophies between Geneseo’s Denny Dierckx and Sterling’s Max Gaumer came to a head during the second half. 

At the end of the game, we were told to go straight to the locker room and not engage in the traditional postgame handshake. This was unusual, I thought, but being the youngest of the foot soldiers, I, too, made the dash from sideline to locker room after the game. 

I bring up this embarrassing moment in the rivalry’s history to prove this point: Is Sterling judged as a rival by that single action? My friends from Geneseo tell me no, and it has long become water under the bridge. Had the schools been nonconference opponents, then the absence of the yearly meetings would have left such a moment linger through word association. 

Because Sterling and Geneseo are very familiar with each other, It’s common to see the same people every year. Eventually people become known on a first-name basis over time. It’s been a few years since I covered a Golden Warriors and Maple Leafs football game, and I look forward to meeting up Friday with people I’ve come to know from Geneseo over the years – most through correspondence on high school sports message boards – as well as folks from Sterling I don’t get to see much of lately.

Together, their schools have something in common this year: To stand their ground against the much bigger schools of the Western Big 6.

The last game I covered at Bob Reade Field was in Week 3 of 2013, a 42-7 Geneseo win over Morris. Before that game, a small group of those I knew from both Morris and Geneseo chewed the fat during the sophomore game. Instead of calling each other by our message board names, we all knew each other on a first-name basis. We talked football from all of our different directions, interesting topics from the message board, and more. 

My Morris friends and I had a similar get-together with folks we knew from Sacred Heart-Griffin of Springfield when I covered the Redskins’ 30-20 5A semifinal home win over the Cyclones in 2012.

The message board scene largely has faded out due to the rise of more personable social media, but back then it was pretty cool to put names and faces to usernames. I’ve had memorable meetings over the years with new friends at Rochelle, Kaneland, Lemont, Ottawa and Winnebago, also. 

Knowing people who have the same interests as you do helps create a healthier social life. High school football may be a narrower subject of interest, but knowing different people from different places, and thus taking in different perspectives of similar things, is a very fun feeling. 

See you at Bob Reade Field tonight!

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