For the Daily Reporter
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Not all games are created equal.
There are certain contests each team circles on its calendar, respective fan bases get excited for and student-athletes push themselves a little harder for in practice.
For Alabama, it is Auburn. Harvard has Yale.
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Indiana and Purdue tear the Hoosier State apart during football and basketball seasons, while Ohio State and Michigan fans do not talk to each other when the Buckeyes and Wolverines compete against each other.
For Eastern Hancock High School, the game that is not created equal is the one that has the Royals playing the Knightstown Panthers.
From a fan’s standpoint, it is easy to see why, as the two schools are separated by just over seven miles along U.S. 40. Eastern Hancock athletics director and boys basketball coach Aaron Spaulding admits the distance has a lot to do with it.
“I think everyone needs a big rival,” he said. “Indiana has Purdue, North Carolina has Duke, the Yankees have the Red Sox. For us, it is Knightstown. It just gives you something to shoot for. The reason for the rivalry is distance, and we are relatively the same school size.”
For Spaulding, he has seen both good times and bad during his 17 years at the helm with the Royals.
“I realized the rivalry was special pretty quickly,” he said. “Our first win the year I first arrived in 1999 was against Knightstown, and people were pretty excited. Also, our first sectional championship in 2003 came against Knightstown, which was special.
“One more great memory, at least for us, was when Robbie Roland made a last-second layup for us to win by one point in the sectional semifinal in 2008. Even though we beat Union County the next night to win the sectional, that is the game everyone remembers.”
Eastern Hancock wrestling coach Keith Oliver can relate. As a student, he competed against Knightstown both in football and wrestling.
“You hear stories about classes before you beating them in close matches or games,” Oliver said. “It’s also about bragging rights knowing that you have an opportunity to have a crosstown win. Being able to carry on traditions and feeling the joy of being a part of something special.”
As veteran members of the Eastern Hancock athletics department, both Oliver and Spaulding acknowledge the rivalry is just as strong today as it was when they were first competing against the Panthers.
“It does change from time to time when one team is really down and the other is really good, but you still want to have that sense of accomplishment,” Oliver said.
While the question remains as to what conference the Royals will compete in next school year (currently Mid-Hoosier Conference), Spaulding admits the Royals will have no problem getting up against Knightstown, regardless of what is at stake.
“The rivalry is just as big now as it has always been. I don’t think the conference change will have any impact,” he said. “A few years ago, we were without a conference, and the rivalry was just as big. It may have been greater because we did not have conference championships to shoot for.”
THE OTHER SIDELINE
Eastern Hancock presents just one side to this story. For Knights- town, the feeling is mutual — the Panthers do not accept losing to the Royals.
Riley Ruble, a senior at Knightstown who participates in football, basketball and track, said, above all else, contests against the Royals are the No. 1 most anticipated games of the year. And it’s not even close.
“It’s just not like any other week,” he said. “We would rather beat Eastern Hancock than our sectional opponent. No matter the record of each team, they are always usually good games.”
However, what makes these foes unique is their relationship away from sports.
Eastern Hancock junior Morgan Collins, who plays basketball for the Royals, said although every matchup with the Panthers receives more “hype,” the athletes actually remain friends off the court. Sometimes they even eat together after games. In fact, some students and fans are even related.
“We don’t like them on the court and want to beat them bad, but we are friends as soon as it’s over,” Collins said.
And according to Eastern Hancock alumni and current public address announcer John Collins, football draws the biggest crowd among the two rivals. The Plowshare and Anvil trophy, created in 2006, would justify that statement.
Eastern Hancock has won it 5 of 10 times, including three in a row. The first meeting for the anvil was a 15-12 battle in favor of the Royals.
Devin Denny, a junior running back, helped Eastern Hancock destroy the Panthers this season in a lopsided 53-28 win.
“Playing against the school right down the road and having the anvil just makes it that much more anticipated,” Denny said. “We know a lot of the guys that play for them, so it’s always fun to beat people you know.
“It takes the normal atmosphere of playing under the lights to a whole different level.”
Basketball would be next on the totem pole of popular sports among the competitors.
The Royals boys lost 70-64 this past season while the girls won 77-44. Recently in track and field, Eastern Hancock swept both sides of the meet.
And regardless of what the rest of the spring sports season has in store, this rivalry is sure to keep its luster.
Eastern Hancock Public Address announcer John Collins
“The Knightstown and Eastern Hancock rivalry is a lot of fun. I think there is a lot of friendships and family. This is the type of relationship where you want to beat them more than any team you play, but when the game is over you are going out to dinner together. You are still family.
“It’s a good time, I love it.”