Commentary: Hopewell, Petersburg Rivalry Brings Excitement
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 8, 2014, 07:54
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — All it took was one minute on Bill Littlepage court to know this was different. A quick glance around Hopewell's gym showed filled stands on either side of the court with heavy tension in the air.
As the Blue Devils and Crimson Wave took the floor for warm-ups, allegiances were loudly proclaimed for either the athletes in white with blue and gold trimming along the shorts or those with the burgundy red on the opposite side.
Adding to the hostile atmosphere were both cheerleading teams and a Hopewell band belting out music previously only heard on the football fields. It's an atmosphere normally reserved for colleges, but a Hopewell and Petersburg clash is not like any other high school game.
"This is this area's Duke, North Carolina," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said to me after the team's first meeting of the season.
And it was in the first meeting of the season where one caught a glimpse of what was to unfold in this season's edition of an old-time rivalry.
Both teams battled for each possession, guarding the ball as if their lives depended on it while answering their opponent's run with one of their own. The lead never once reached double-figures for either team.
It was evident the game would find its conclusion in the fourth quarter and it took two clutch plays from the Crimson Wave's Gevon Arrington to seal the win. But it wasn't just any win, it was their eighth-straight Fort Lee Tournament title.
Meanwhile, Hopewell's last banner was earned 13 years ago.
"This game means something," St. John elaborated on the rivalry. "I had coaches calling me and visiting my house this morning ... it's a big deal."
And after such a thrilling first game, it would have been difficult for the second to top it.
However, for the first 13 minutes, it seemed like it would with 13 lead changes in the short span of action. Both team's defensive pressure was physical, adding to the hostility between the two squads.
Yet, after tying the game at 28 with a little more than three minutes left in the half, Hopewell's foul troubles doomed them. The Crimson Wave, Conference 3A's No. 9 ranked team in the polls, took advantage of the Blue Devils' follies and raced to a sizable advantage.
However, as the lead grew, tensions also did leading to small skirmishes on the court: pushes, shoves and jawing. Then, St. John spoke a bit too much to a referee after a double-technical was called and he received a technical of his own.
It was just what the crowd needed to get fired up with fans of either side awakened by the happenings on the court.
But that is the type of passion any true rivalry has.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
While both teams battle each other year after year, there is a genuine respect between the two sides. Both respect the way each other battles and brings out the best in each other.
"They have too much respect for other," Crimson Wave head coach Rick Hite said of the physical play. "They won't go over the top. Trust me, they are going to push, they are going to shove, but at the end of the day, I know there's a respect."
However, part of the physical play has to be from the frustration experienced by a Hopewell squad attempting to rewrite history.
They know the numbers — Hopewell has just an 11-44 record against Petersburg since 2004. They also see the banners adorning the gym in Fort Lee where The Crimson Wave have captured 16 total — eight straight — while no blue banner has been raised since 2000.
It's the type of history which adds to a rivalry and breeds contempt, but also allows each side to play at their highest level.
"Our kids know that over 50 some attempts, we've won just handful," St. John said of his team. "They realize that. It's not their fault that it happened but they're trying to atone for a rivalry that isn't much of a rivalry as far as us being successful. I think they need to get over that and just play."
With over three weeks until the two teams face each other again, Hopewell has a chance to reconfigure their mindset while Petersburg will look to continue its dominance. What happens is uncertain, but what is certain is the two bitter rivals will play in front of a packed gym with both allegiances cheering each stop and score, adding to an atmosphere which is one of the best in the region.