The Big Game has arrived, just as it has each year for more than seven decades.
The Friday night lights will shine brightly on one of the valley’s most storied rivalries this week at Orestimba, where the Warriors play host to Highway 33 neighbor Gustine.
I recall first coming to Newman, which has been a few years ago now, and being schooled on the rivalry and its meaning to both communities.
One could throw out the records, I was told, and regardless of how the rest of the campaign played out the victor in the Big Game could lay claim to a successful season.
The atmosphere surrounding the Big Game is usually electric, and I’m sure that Friday night Warrior Stadium will be jumping.
No championship is on the table this year, but the rivalry game nonetheless has plenty of spice. There will be playoff implications for both teams.....as well as bragging rights for the year to come and possession of the Chief, a carved wooden statue which resides each year on the campus which earns victory in Orestimba-Gustine game.
The Warriors come in with a one-game edge in the standings.....but with a crucial win last week over Waterford the Reds served notice that they are not a team to be taken lightly.
Rivalry games are part of school and community culture. Not everybody enjoys a true rivalry which has been steeped in decades of tradition, with stories passed down through the generations.
I get rivalry games.
Growing up in Iowa, the chief rival to my Everly High School Cattlefeeders (perhaps unmatched in all-time rankings of unique high school nicknames) were the neighboring Clay Central Comanches (nope, that nickname wouldn’t pass muster today).
The emotion and intensity definitely ratcheted up a notch or two when the schools met in any athletic arena.
Now, the schools have consolidated. I have two granddaughters proudly attending what long ago became the Clay Central-Everly school district (mascot: Mavericks). They are celebrating their own school culture and traditions.....but I wonder if they have a true rival in this Midwestern era of school districts with hyphenated (sometimes with multiple hyphens) names after dwindling enrollments forced wholesale consolidation.
I have to believe that the short-lived unification of the Gustine-Newman school districts back in 1967 heightened the gridiron rivalry. The two towns maintained their individual high schools in that time and the rivalry games continued during the unification years. There were some bad feelings during that chapter in our history, and I have to believe that carried over after the districts de-unified in the early 1970s.
While that union was ill-fated, others have thrived.
For all the talk of how much the two towns don’t like one another, a lot of marryin’ goes on back and forth - which in itself must lead to some interesting family dynamics when the Big Game rolls around. I have heard of couples separating for the evening, each sitting in the bleachers of their respective alma mater before reuniting after the fact (hopefully in good graces). I would suspect (and hope), though, that those couples found themselves sitting on the same sideline when their own children were coming up through the ranks of one of the local schools and wearing either the purple and gold of Orestimba or red and white of Gustine High.
Family loyalty trumps school loyalty, after all.
The rivalry has remained strong through the years and has picked up in intensity of late, it seems, but it also appears to me that some of the ill will has subsided and a greater measure of mutual respect has been interjected into the game. Credit the administration of both schools for that, as they emphasize promoting the positive on their campus rather than focusing on showering the other with negativity.
Make no mistake, though. This remains an intense game with no quarter given.
I have often been asked who we root for when Orestimba and Gustine get together. The short answer is neither. We are not at sporting events as fans; that is not our role. Which is not to say that we don’t quietly root for our local teams whenever they are not playing one another. We love to see teams from both schools do well for many reasons. Celebrating the successes of our young adults, capturing moments which boost school and community pride, being on hand as teams and individuals carve their own legacies.....those are positive moments which we enjoy as much as anybody and appreciate sharing.
It’s more fun for everybody involved when things are going well.
I do look forward to the football rivalry, though.....for the atmosphere, for the intensity, for what I always expect to be a good game and simply to see what twists might be in store that add a new chapter to the rivalry.
So we wish both teams well as we anticipate another memorable matchup under the Friday night lights at Orestimba, and stand back to await the outcome.
We remember, too, that for all the hype and hoopla at the end of the day it is just a football game.
The sun is going to come up Saturday regardless of who prevails. Life goes on.
As for Friday night, though.....well, enjoy the moment.