Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

December 8, 2012

Column: Is Valdosta-Lowndes the top rivalry in the South?

VALDOSTA — Is the Winnersville Classic the best high school football rivalry in the South? Let USA Today know.

USA Today is currently conducting an online poll, asking people to vote for the best high school football rivalry in the South. The publication has selected what it believes are the best high school football rivalries in each of the Southern states, and is asking fans to vote for the best rivalry among the group. The Lowndes-Valdosta rivalry is one of the 13 rivalries listed in the poll.

Fans can cast their votes at http://contest.usatodayhss.com/vote/south

We’ve got a great rivalry in this city. Lowndes County’s two public high schools have combined for 1,211 wins, 28 state championships and six national championships. The two schools have met on the gridiron 51 times. Valdosta has won 33 of those games, but Lowndes has prevailed in 11 of the last 14 matchups. They are two schools that place a major emphasis on their football programs.

If you’ve experienced a Winnersville Classic first-hand, you know it’s incredible. The rivalry, the intensity, the environment, the hype and the caliber of football played is excellent. It’s the best high school rivalry I’ve ever seen, in any sport.

Winnersville’s competition to be called the South’s best rivalry is stiff, though. There are some big-time rivalries in this part of the country.

The Jenks-Union rivalry is contested between two top-notch programs at the University of Tulsa’s football stadium; the winner of their game is usually considered the favorite to win the state championship in Oklahoma’s highest classification. The Trinity-St. Xavier rivalry is annually played in front of crowds of more than 30,000 fans at the University of Louisville’s stadium. The Rock Hill-Northwestern rivalry (in Rock Hill, S.C., a suburb of Charlotte, N.C.) has become so intense that some fans have placed tombstones with opposing players’ names on them on the field.

Other rivalries have long histories. In Chattanooga, Tenn., Baylor and McCallie have been playing each other since 1905 (it’s the oldest rivalry in Tennessee). Sherman and Denison, two schools from neighboring towns, have the oldest rivalry in the state of Texas; they first played each other in 1906. In New Orleans, Jesuit and Holy Cross have battled since 1922. Springdale and Fayetteville (Ark.) have played each other 113 times, with the first game being held in 1923.

These are some great rivalries, but I’m partial to our town’s rivalry. The Valdosta-Lowndes game is pretty special.

We’ve got the perfect setting for a great prep football rivalry. We’re located in a part of the state where people love football. There are only two public high schools in Lowndes County, so unless you or your children go to one of the private schools, you’re either a Wildcat or a Viking.

When the two teams meet, the games are often very competitive. Seventeen Valdosta-Lowndes games — one out of every three — have been decided by eight points or less, and many other games have been close until the final minutes. The last three Winnersville Classics have been decided in the final 25 seconds, including this year’s game, when Lowndes’ Gustavo Gonzales kicked a field goal on the final play of the game to give his team a 17-14 victory.

The two teams have great fan support. Every year, the Winnersville Classic is sold out by noon on Wednesday, which is impressive if you consider that tickets don’t go on sale to the general public until Wednesday morning (season ticket holders, parents and Touchdown Club members are the only ones who can buy tickets on Monday and Tuesday). On game day, fans start tailgating hours before the game, and one year, there were some fans that spent Thursday night in an RV in the parking lot so that they could get an early start on tailgating Friday morning. Once the game starts, it’s loud from start to finish; either the Lowndes fans or the Valdosta fans (and sometimes both of them) are constantly making noise.

And there are plenty of fans and players that harbor a strong dislike for the other side. Some years, the schools have been vandalized during Winnersville week. One year, Lowndes fans put a model of a Viking ship in the pond outside of Valdosta High School. Cat paws have allegedly shown up on Lowndes’ campus. Players from both sides have no problem expressing their dislike for the other team. The Vikings desperately want to beat the Wildcats, and the Wildcats desperately want to beat the Vikings. There is some mutual respect in this rivalry, but there is no love lost between the sides.

The fans’ intensity is sometimes even greater than the players.’ I have heard plenty of insults hurled at players and coaches from the other team — from both Wildcat and Viking fans. Friendships and even relationships often become strained the week of the Winnersville Classic. I know a Viking fan who once threw away a pair of football cleats his young son had just been given because they were black (naturally, he then bought his son some red cleats). And a Valdosta fan once told me if Lowndes was playing the Taliban, he’d root for the Taliban.

But most importantly, the Valdosta-Lowndes rivalry is a great rivalry because the Wildcats and the Vikings are teams that have won a lot of games. Valdosta is the winningest high school football program in the nation, with 876 wins, while Lowndes has 335 wins since it started playing football in 1966. The Wildcats have the most state championships in Georgia’s highest classification (19 of their state record 23 state titles have been in the state’s biggest class), while the Vikings have the second-most state titles in that classification (five). The two programs have a combined 28 state championships overall, which is a pretty impressive total for two schools in the same city.

Right now, the Winnersville rivalry is behind in the voting. When I cast my vote yesterday (yes, I voted for the Valdosta-Lowndes rivalry), we had about 3.8 percent of the votes. The Brewton, Ala. crosstown rivalry between Miller and Neal was leading the voting with 26.9 percent of the votes, while Trinity-St. Xavier was close behind, with 25.9 percent.

In my very biased opinion, I think Valdosta has the best high school football rivalry in the South. Do you agree? If so, go online and cast your vote!

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