BLOOMINGDALE - The Edison and Indian Creek football teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Kettlewell Memorial Stadium for the 20th edition of their Route 43 Bowl rivalry.
Wildcats' head coach Mike McKenzie and Redskins head coach Andrew Connor have developed depth to this battle of Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and Buckeye 8 foes in the past six years with the addition of a traveling trophy sponsored by the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School and the Dr. Butterfield MVPs of the Game where each team votes for the opposing teams most valuable player.
Perhaps the best addition McKenzie and Connor made to the rivalry took place Wednesday night with the sixth-annual Sportsmanship Banquet at the JVS which brings together coaches, players, trainers, and cheerleaders from both schools along with administrators and board members from both school districts, both schools' boosters, and Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who escorts the visiting team to the game each year.
SPEAKER — Main speaker John Kuczykowski, flanked by Indian Creek head coach Andrew Connor and Edison head coach Mike McKenzie, speaks during the Wildcats’ and Redskins’ Sportsmanship Banquet Wednesday.
-- Fred Younce
"It was something I had done at Indian Valley," said McKenzie. "When I was there Indian Valley played Claymont on Week 10, and before I got there they did it. After I got here, that second year, I talked to Andrew and he expressed what he wanted to do, and I was contacting them wanting to do the same thing. We had the same idea."
Added Connor, "I've been here a little longer than Coach (McKenzie) has been with rivalry, and I had talked to the previous two coaches about it, and we had always talked about it, but there was never any follow through. When Mike got the job it was immediate.
"He had done this at other schools he had been at, and I just thought this was something to celebrate the rivalry."
The night's main speaker, John Kuczykowski, feels the banquet adds to a strong rivalry, and credits Connor and McKenzie for their efforts.
"I think it does (add to the rivalry)," he said. "I think it increases the standard. Because of geography and logistics, Edison and Indian Creek is just a natural invented rivalry.
"Coach McKenzie and Coach Connor, with the class they provide with this banquet, bring up the intensity.
"It's a big deal. It's like a bowl game, a collegiate bowl game."
The banquet does more than just give an added intensity to the match up. It provides something teams don't usually experience during their week's preparation.
"It brings humanity to it," said McKenzie. "You see your opponent. They're typically faceless opponents because you see them with their helmets on film.
"It changes the dynamic going into game night. There's a different feel to the rivalry."
Indian Creek senior Shane Winland concurred with McKenzie's notion.
"I feel it's nice," he said. "You get to see faces from the other team you'll be playing that you don't get to see normally because helmets are on. It adds to the game."
Continued Indian Creek senior Frankie Kamarec, "You get to know them a little bit. Get to see them in this friendly environment, and then you get to go hit them Saturday. It adds to the fun."
Added Connor, "It shows them the importance of it. I think any time you do something a little out of the ordinary, a little different than what you do any other week, it shows the importance of that week.
"You're coming out here spending time with the team you're going to play kind of shows respect for the game. I think that's the important part of this rivalry. That though it is heated and we play hard, the kids respect the fact the kids have grown up together, and that what we do between the whistles is not the same as what we do in a setting like this.
"I think it's important for the kids to understand there's a lot of different facets that go into a rivalry and this is one part of it."
Kuczykowski was honored to have been asked to speak at the event due to the respect it adds to the game.
"It was very heartfelt because, as I said, you and I don't travel this road alone," he said. "You surround yourself with the best people, in your judgment, that you can, and it's just two quality communities, and it was a privilege for me to address them and thank them tonight."
With all that surrounds it, the players feel an added importance to the game.
"It's become really big," said Edison senior Dylan Glasure. "Everyone wants to win, and we all just go out and play our hardest because we all know it's our last game."
Added Edison senior Jacob Ross, "This rivalry is everything. It's everything you look for during the season.
"You can't wait to get to that last game. We're all a community, and this is a friendly rivalry."
Edison senior Chris Graziani and Indian Creek senior Alex Young agreed with Ross about it being a friendly rivalry, and feel that makes it more fun to be a part of the game.
"We all have sportsmanship and we all play with heart," said Graziani. "When you're out on the field you feel like you have to play all out.
"It's an intense rivalry. Ever since my sophomore year I've loved playing in this game. I have great respect for Creek, and I hope we play well against them."
Added Young, "It gets the two teams together to show sportsmanship, and it gets us ready for Saturday. It's just two schools, close in proximity, that go at it on the football field. It's fun to be a part of."
That's not to say it doesn't take some adjustment before you break bread with your fiercest rival the week you are set to match up.
"When I was a sophomore it was weird, but now it's just a part of the rivalry," said Glasure. "Saturday we'll just go out and be ready to play."
Added Young, "It's a little odd. It doesn't feel normal, but I understand why we do it. It really does help the rivalry."
Connor and McKenzie have cultivated this game into a top-notch rivalry, and both believe it has come about as a combination of the players and community buying into the addition of the banquet along with the traveling trophy and the MVP awards.
"I think this is a unique rivalry," said Connor.
"We share Route 43, we're only a few minutes away, we have the same type of kids - hard-nosed, good kids - and this is a way to celebrate the kids and their hard work.
"It gives us something to play for. No matter what the end of the year is, the most important part of Week 10 is that trophy, and being able to hoist that trophy after the game for 365 days. I think it's made it special."
Continued McKenzie, "The trophy is one more piece to the rivalry along with the MVP trophies and the banquet. All those things plus we're game of week on TV for I believe the fifth year. All those little things add to make the rivalry more intense.
"Saturday will be different than other games. Our preparation isn't any different because we work hard every week, no matter who the opponent is each week. With all the little things though it adds intensity to the game night. It's palpable.
"You can feel it coming from the stands, from the people in the community. The fans are a little more energized for the rivalry."
Both coaches also remember how far the banquet itself has come since it debut during the 2007 season.
"It's come a long way since being at the church on Lovers Lane that first year to being at the JVS the last few," said McKenzie. "It added to the rivalry, and became one more thing to raise awareness in the community and increase the presence of the rivalry."
Added Connor, "I think going from where it started, like he said, on Lovers Lane in St. Pius' basement, to this, with the community involvement, and the packed house we'll play in front of Saturday night are all very important to our rivalry."
And the kids are looking forward to playing in front of that packed house Saturday.
"Of course it's a big game because it's Week 10, and this year it's a big game because we have to win to make the playoffs," said Winland. "The rivalry in general is just a big game because it's on TV, we're right up the road from each other, and it's just real important to us."
Continued Kamarec, "It means a lot. It's my senior year, on our last home game, against our neighboring school. This game just means a lot to us.
"To me, it adds to things. As our rival they definitely want to knock us out of the playoffs this year."
Ross may have said it best when he simply added, "We're all rivals, and we all want to beat the heck out of each other."