This & That: Good vs bad local team rivalries

Rivalries are often the focus of sports competition. According to Webster, a rival is one of two or more parties striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess. One that, at least, equals another in a desired quality.

There are good rivalries, and there are bad rivalries. I happen to think some good rivalries can be bad at times. I also believe some bad rivalries can be good at times. Sometimes, rivals change depending on the sport or the season. Many think Bellows Falls and Springfield are this area’s fiercest rivalry. Depending upon where you live, there may be others claiming that the rivalry between Chester and Ludlow, or Green Mountain against Black River takes a back seat to no one. I haven’t even mentioned Fall Mountain, who has separate rivalries at times with Stevens, Monadnock, and Bellows Falls.

Again, it depends who you are or where you live and upon your life experiences. Many might say today: both the rivalries originally mentioned between Bellows Falls and Springfield and Black River and Green Mountain are stale compared to what they use to be. There are still others who might offer that the world has changed and relationships are different. Social media has made it easier to get to know someone and yet tougher to believe some of the things people might say about your hated rival.

I grew up in the Bellows Falls vs. Springfield rivalry. Those who influenced me at a young age made it clear I shouldn’t like Springfield. There were games, and then there were games. Springfield was the game, and you better not lose. I learned, for the most part, it didn’t matter what the records were; either team could win and you better not let them win. Red Sox vs. Yankees, Patriots vs. Jets, Celtics vs. Lakers, and Dartmouth vs. Holy Cross were some of the ferocious rivalries I came across at a very young age.

Black River’s Ryan Sheehan is shown making a pass in game action earlier this season. Sheehan and his mates will not be playing any home games this winter. Due to a gym floor problem, they will play most of their home games at Green Mountain’s Nason Gym. Photo by Doug MacPhee.

How about that Black River vs. Green Mountain one I thought was the same as all the others? I was led to believe the two just didn’t like each other. Was that true? Someone recently told me different.

I was inquiring about the status of the Black River Gym, which we have now heard is either officially or unofficially entitled Presidential Hall (really like that name), and Black River Athletic Director Joe Gurdak told me, “Green Mountain has always been ‘a really good rival.’”

Green Mountain Athletic Director Todd Parah and Gurdak met recently and were able to somehow schedule almost all of the Black River boys’ and girls’ basketball games at Nason Gym in Chester. If you missed the news a few weeks ago, the floor at Presidential Hall has become unplayable because of wood rot. The President teams were looking for a place to play. Gym scheduling is a headache in every town for every athletic director, but to fit four programs into one gym…WOW! There should be a standing ovation for both Parah and Gurdak.

Gurdak told me, “Todd did an incredible job. The school board approved it. The principal is on board – even their assistant principal attended our meeting. The cooperation has been tremendous. They even bent over backwards to get a JV game in.”

Back to the Black River vs. Green Mountain rivalry, Gurdak answered, “Our rivalry between the two schools has always been a good rivalry. It has never been about trying to smash them. It has always been about respect in every sport. It has never mattered what the records have been. It is a game that you always looked forward to, but when the game was over, you are talking to each other and you are friends.”

Gurdak is about the same age I am. How did his definition of rivalry turn out so different than mine? I decided to call some other contacts through the generations of that rivalry to find out what either Gurdak or I missed. I know I have spoken to persons on both sides of the Bellows Falls vs. Springfield rivalry several times and persons of several generations feel differently there. One Springfield coach told me in the past decade, “I’ve played in this rivalry as well as coached in it. We didn’t know the kids from Bellows Falls, and we didn’t want to. We knew if the other players wore purple, we didn’t like them.”

Those words might have been a little harsh, but they weren’t too far beyond all that I had been brought up with and knew existed. The same coach told me that social media had brought the teams closer. They had met many more players, one way or another, than we had in the “good old days.” Obviously, social media can create animosity too, but those coaching today seem to agree in general, social media has lessened the impact of rivalries.

My look into these area rivalries has turned up another side segue. Someone said to me, “I don’t think the differences are basically between smaller towns and larger towns. I believe it is more about football schools and non-football schools or soccer schools. I think football schools talk about smashing an opponent, and it may go beyond just the football games.”

I certainly will buy that.

Gurdak also gave us more to think about when it comes to the Black River vs. Green Mountain rivalry. “When I first became a part of this rivalry back when I was in school,” he said, “kids from both schools met on the mountain [Okemo]. There was talk about the rivalry between us, like someone might say they were going to beat us, but our response was something like, ‘that’s not going to happen.’ We were friends. We respected each other.”

Still, it was good to see the athletic directors at the two schools sitting down and taking care of an important problem like they did with the gym. Parah said, “It was actually pretty impressive how we were able to work out the dates. There is only so much time. It felt rewarding to be able to sit down with a crosstown rival and make it work. We want to help out.”

These two communities have worked together like this before. There was another unfortunate time in the not-so-distant past when a storm made Green Mountain’s softball field unplayable. Black River came to the rescue and dates at Dorsey Park were worked out for the Chieftain team. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the powers that be from Chester have extended the helping hand.

This certainly is a good rivalry.

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