Old foes meet for last time, sort of
The last game fop the regular high school football season is often one rich with tradition. Auburn and Alabama. Andalusia and Opp. Red Level and Straughn.
Only tonight's game will be the last time the Red Level and Straughn high schools will meet in regular season play. Because of Straughn being moved up to AAA class football, regions and schedules have shifted, with AA Class Red Level looking more westward next year as they take on different opponents.
"We're heading west to play a very tough region," said Coach Tim Grimes with Red Level. "We'll be playing McKenzie again."
"Some might question the decision, but with growth, come certain things that we may not always understand, but we have to do," said Straughn High School Coach Trent Taylor. "When everybody looks at it from the side of the desk that I'm on, they'll certainly understand."
Both coaches understand the importance of rivalry, and because of that, they are determined to keep fanning the flames between Red Level and Straughn. Instead of waiting for the last game of the 10-game season to play, the schools will meet first in a fall jamboree, giving each of them 11 games on their schedule.
"We're going to treat this like Charles Henderson and Pike County up in Troy," said Grimes. "We'll use it as a kick off game at the beginning at regular season."
"That gives the fans a taste of the fall Red Level game," said Taylor. "Coach Grimes and I can give some of our younger players time to play."
"They're not off our schedule," said Grimes. "It's a football game for us. The kids walking in Straughn halls and Red Level halls - they'll know it's a real football game. This is a good game for us."
Besides keeping their old rivalry, both schools will look at picking up some new ones. Red Level, who had a heated rivalry with neighboring McKenzie before Straughn School put a team on the field, will get the chance to renew that. Besides taking on Andalusia next year, Straughn will also have T.R. Miller to face on the gridiron. In fact, Taylor said, the Straughn Tigers will be facing so many rivals next year, that moving the Red Level match up to the beginning of the season could help.
"From our standpoint, that to have that tenth game of the season be such an emotional game - it would be tough to get your kids in the emotional frame of mind to go into that," he said.
Grimes said the kick-off game next year would rotate home field advantage, as they have in the past.
Fan reactions to the change ranges from regretful to upset, even though the teams will still be meeting.
"It will be strange not to have them play in the regular season," said Diane Tucker.
Barbara Berry, whose children went to Red Level, but whose grandchildren go to Straughn, also regrets seeing the season game pass.
"It's an age-old rivalry. I think eventually they'll get back to playing because they've always played each other in season," she said.
In Red Level, reactions were a little stronger.
"We hate it," said Ray Likely. "I think this is the biggest rivalry of all time. It's a mistake to take it off the regular schedule. I can't always make it to every game, but that's the game I always make sure to go to. It's like Auburn and Alabama."
Wayne Lee, who has a son playing for Red Level, agrees.
"This is the game we always look forward to - this is the game," he said. "This game with Straughn, it's like Andalusia and Opp."
Gail, his wife, is looking forward to renewing an old rivalry.
"When I was in school. McKenzie was the big rivalry," she said.
David Turner, who also has a son playing for Red Level, thinks it will be different next year, but he's looking forward to tonight's match.
"It's going to be a rivalry game and a hard-hitting game," he said.