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The Rivalry: the story of when LN and LC first met

Keelen Barlow and Jared Rigdon

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They’re separated by 3.6 miles, a seven-minute drive, 24-minute bike ride or even a 68-minute walk. Two separate assemblies of 2,000 plus students who all want just one thing—to beat the other guys.
But this is not a story about what separates Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about one high school football game, the very first of it’s kind, one where a whole township united for a 48-minute fight until the very last minute. One game on Sept. 5, 1982, when heart, blood, sweat and tears were poured into one common goal—to say “I was the first.” One game that was six seasons in the making, and that even almost 35 years to the day afterwards, is still fresh in the minds of those who lived it.
“For me, as a 17 year old, it was almost like the Super Bowl,” former LN running back Tim Dickerson said. “I thought, ‘Wow, the whole township has come out to watch this game. This is something special.’”
Fans, administrators, teachers, students and anyone who was anyone in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township packed the Lawrence Central football stadium that night. After six years, they were finally going to meet. The very first time anyone was able to utter the words “LN versus LC”.
Now an annual event in Lawrence Township, the sister schools’ clash for the “Battle for the Bell” began on that single night in 1982.
“The emotions, I get them right now as I think about that game,” former LC football coach Stew DeVane said. “You think about the emotions that you had leading up to that game, and finally it was time to let them out.”

I. The Beginning 

 

 

Flashback 42 years ago. The split of Lawrence Central into two different schools was like any other school split. The idea was brought upon the school board of the district, the funds were raised and the land purchased. For most, it was the same, for former Lawrence North coach Doug Reeser, the split was the start of his coaching future.

“I was the only assistant coach [at LC] that wanted to be a head coach. I was a young pup at 27, and I wanted to head up the new program,” Reeser said.  “I was thrilled we were splitting because I wouldn’t have gotten the job. I would’ve had to go somewhere else, but I was a Lawrence guy,”

Like many big decisions, the split was met with strong, mixed emotions. Family history, loyalty and friendships were put on the line due to one district ultimatum. For the Dickerson family,  who had two kids go to LC and two follow to LN, the split was the end of an old tradition, but the beginning of a new one.

“Ut was very exciting to me because I grew up a LC Bear. I had two brothers, Ty and George, that played for LC back in the 70’s so I grew up as a young kid always going to their games, looking forward to their games, wanting to someday play for LC.  Having siblings that went to LC it was bittersweet because it was almost like a tradition had ended,” former LN running back Tim Dickerson said.  “I can remember that week being really excited only because we would finally get to play our cross-town rivals, but it was the school my brothers played for. I had mixed emotions because I had always loved LC, but now I wanted to beat them real bad.

For Dickerson there was concern on how the split might affect the winning and the success of a program especially as LN began in a difficult conference.

“There wasn’t going to be just one powerhouse school like Warren or Carmel or Ben Davis,” Dickerson said. “I can remember wondering how that would affect the strength of the programs especially in football and basketball because it seems like you’re splitting the talent. Coach Reeser had 20 years of winning seasons so he pretty much overachieved in terms of starting the program.”

The opportunities brought by splitting the schools were enough to be a driving factor into agreement with the district’s choice for many including coach Bob Potter, who saw it as a chance to open up spots for many talented athletes.

“It gives twice as many quarterbacks, cornerbacks, sprinters, basketball and twice as many opportunities,” Potter said.   

While LN was set up to begin the 1976 season, the township rivalry wasn’t initiated right away, giving LN time to establish the school as their own, separate from the dominant football juggernaut of LC.

“We had kids that attended Lawrence Central for three years. Your juniors, sophomores and freshman had been all at LC and then came out here after the split,” Reeser said.  “They didn’t want the competition between the two schools until everyone had passed through and graduated.”

For the first six years of LN football, before ever tangling with LC, the Wildcats went about their business compiling 44 wins and exceeding the low expectations expected from a new football program with no seniors.

“We had no seniors and we were 7-3, that’s been the best opening record for a school in Indiana football history for having no seniors,” Reeser said. “We went 7-3 and lost on an overtime play to Beech Grove, or we would’ve won the conference the very first year because other teams lost to each other in the conference.”

For LN, those initial years were never about meeting their own expectations, they were about meeting those of their crosstown rival. Everyone saw what LN could do with Reeser at the helm, but what could they do when they came face to face with an Indiana state football power?  As the first game in 1982 rapidly approached the pressure was on for LN, the expectation to match LC grew as the wins accumulated for the wildcats.

“For us, I felt our kids were trying awfully hard because who was the established school, Lawrence Central. They had been there for years, the 1940s on up. We were still considered the new kids on the block. Could LN play with LC? LC has always been good with football,” Reeser said. “I think our kids felt more pressure because we were playing at LC and we we’re trying to keep our identity going even though we had won consistently six years in a row.”

Sept. 5, 1982 was circled on the calendar months in advance for many in Lawrence Township. Dickerson knew the emotions would hit, but when the date came, it was much more than he could expect.

“I can remember getting dressed in the locker room and it was very very quiet it was like everyone was just focused on what we had to do. I can remember taking that short drive to Lawrence Central and when we pulled into the parking lot, all of those emotions from when I was a kid came back to me because we used to pull into that same parking lot when I was five or six years old,” Dickerson said.  “As Reeser’s talking to the team I’m excited and nervous, thinking about what I had to do because I was the starter for that game. Mixed within those emotions I had all those memories of when I was a kid and when I with my brothers. I can remember running out on the field and feeling so much pride to be a LN Wildcat.”

From there, everything Dickerson didn’t hear much of anything.

 

The Battle Before the Bell

To imagine how loud it was in that stadium, you have to know how crucial the game program was that night. You had to know jersey numbers to even have a prayer of following along, that’s how loud it was.

“It was very loud during the whole game. You couldn’t even hear the loudspeaker guy saying who was running the ball,” Dickerson said.

4,000 plus people in a standing room only environment will do that to the sound, as former players and coaches packed the track to see their former teams.

The intensity in the game was consistent. LC defensive tackle Brad Crouse started the pressure early as LN quarterback Brent McKenzie was forced out of the pocket all night long.

“Early on in that game I threw an interception and that really good linebacker from LC, Brad Crouse, absolutely leveled me,” McKenzie said. “I may have only had a couple concussions in my career, and that sure left me seeing things.”

LN wanted to win this one, very bad. But LC played as though there was much more on the line from 56th Street. Dickerson knew that to win this one, he’d have to play the perfect game.  

“I could remember they were hitting very hard. It was a very well-played game. I thought, ‘Wow these guys want to win just as bad as I do,” Dickerson said. “I could remember thinking I wanted to play the perfect game, not wanting to make a mistake.”

While Dickerson looked to avoid mistakes, the Wildcats shot themselves in the foot, giving LC an advantage that the Bears ran with early in the game.

“I think the first quarter we fumbled the ball deep in our own territory and we gave them a touchdown right off the bat,” Reeser said. “It’s like the NFL, you can’t make mistakes and expect to win. We made a lot of mistakes and they made fewer.”

The year before the LN team had a veteran, seasoned squad. In 1982,however Reeser turned over the reigns to an inexperienced squad, with only about six starters returning.

“We were a pretty young team and we had a lot of seniors that hadn’t played varsity until their senior year,” McKenzie said. “We were kind of feeling each other out, trying to figure what the other players were like.”

Reeser came into the game knowing they were playing a step behind LC, trying to make up for the fact that mistakes would be more costly than usual.

“I think we went in as the underdog, because if you look at the team, we only had six returning starters, and they had around 12. Had we played them the year before, we would’ve gone into it as a favorite,” Reeser said. “Going in when we did, we felt as a coaching staff we were making youthful mistakes even though they we were good, we can’t fumble balls away in our own end.”

To get LN on the board in the ballgame, Dickerson took the ball into the endzone. For Dickerson, that score brought out the kid in him.

“I can remember I was very quiet as a kid but I can remember after I scored raising my hand in the endzone like “Yes! we scored”. I was very, very emotional, but I really just wanted to win that game that bad,” Dickerson said.

In a back and forth game, the plays LN spent time on in practice would be crucial if the Wildcats had any chance of digging out of their five point deficit. With the game sitting at 17-12 LC with roughly thirty seconds, the play that ensued would send Dickerson to bed with tears in his eyes for the first time in his life.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this a perfect play I’ll take it just like I did in practice and go straight to the end zone.’ So I was thankful that Reeser called a play for me and that he called the play that was successful all week in practice,” Dickerson said. “I just knew I’m going to score on this play. I can remember very vividly taking that side step forward and turning around to catch the ball.”

Dickerson would never score on that play. He would never feel the joy of beating his brother’s school in the first rendition of the township rivalry, but would feel the pain of a school’s heartbreak on his shoulders.

“As soon as I turn around, a big defensive tackle Rodney Swanigan slammed right into me. He levels me and I go straight down. I did not fumble but his helmet caught underneath my face mask and hit my nose, and I was bleeding,” Dickerson said. “I just remember seeing some stars when he got me. I went straight down and pretty much that was the game.”

One play later, McKenzie did his best to put the Wildcats back in the game, but once again young mistakes would come back to haunt the team.

“Reeser called an out and up, and the receiver ran an out and I threw an out and up and they had an interception to end the game,” McKenzie said.

Reeser knew as the Wildcats drove the ball downfield, there was a legitimate chance to win the ballgame. However, a missed block on third down and a misran route on fourth down cost the Wildcats the first township game.

“We were driving, trying to score to win the game. Had we scored a touchdown, we would’ve won the game,” Reeser said.  

The pain Dickerson felt after Swanigan hit him lasted momentarily, the pain from losing stuck with him much longer.

“All I could think about was that we lost the game. It was probably the worst feeling I ever had after a loss it really was. That’s the only game of football that I ever cried after a loss,” Dickerson said. “ That’s how hurt i was because of all the mixed emotions. It was my brothers school and I was a fan and now we get to play the first game against our rivals and we had a chance to win it and put a stamp on the township for LN and we lost it. It hurt me that bad emotionally.”

 

III. The Rivalry Today

LN and LC have met 34 times in the regular season since that 1982 game. While LN won four of the first five match ups, the Bears have mostly dominated the series since, winning 24 of the 35 games all-time. For Reeser, the annual event has become a game of recognition and honor between the schools
“The game itself, I think we’ve continued to see good sportsmanship throughout the years which makes me happy.” Reeser said “I feel like through all our sports there’s been a mutual respect.”
The character of the Lawrence Township community, Dickerson says, is what has enabled the rivalry to become respectable both on and off the field.
“There was some trash talk back and forth but there was never anything vicious or mean and I think that speaks to the quality of character in Lawrence,” Dickerson said. “It’s a great township of family and character, leadership and partnership and I wouldn’t want my kids to go anywhere else.”
For DeVane the inaugural game between the rival schools set an example for the preceding games in the series.
“We wanted to set the tone on how to play the game and how a rivalry should be played,” DeVane said “It should be tough it should be hard hitting but it should be won the way it was supposed to.”
While the Bears may hold the overall advantage in the series, LN and LC football games in 2015 and 2016 were won by a combined 3 points. Recently the two teams were voted into the Associated Press Top 10 heading into the 2017 meeting tonight.
Even years after, the Rivalry continues to make an impact on Dickerson.
“I have always been a fan and I always made it a point to attend those games because it gave me a thrill to watch those LN/LC games on the same field that I had played on,” Dickerson said “I’m still a fan, and win or lose, I’ll always be a Wildcat.”

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The Rivalry: the story of when LN and LC first met