Brick City battle royale
Not unlike an old-timey, back-country feud, the young but growing rivalry between Lee County’s two biggest high schools can split families and tends to really erupt at certain times of the year.
This week is one of those times. The schools face off Friday night in their final regular season football game of the year, for bragging rights that will last a year. Lee County High School (8-2, 4-1) will host Southern Lee High School (3-7, 2-3) at 7:30 p.m. at Paul Gay Stadium.
This game has some big differences from every other game that’s been played between the squads since Southern Lee was founded in 2006 to relieve overcrowding at Lee Senior — differences that athletic officials from both schools said are making this game feel even more important than before.
This is the first year the Yellow Jackets are in the same conference and division as the Cavaliers, having moved down a level at the start of this season. Plus, the game — known as the Brick City Bowl, in reference to Sanford’s history of brick production — is now at the end of the season instead of the beginning.
“I guess you could say the stakes are a little higher now, being in the same league,” Lee Senior Athletic Director Reggie Peace said. “All of the fall team sports were more competitive. ... The games mean a whole lot more than they did before. Obviously you always want to win, but now it determines if you go to the state playoffs.”
This game likely won’t have playoff implications — the Yellow Jackets already clinched and the Cavaliers are a longshot — but Southern Lee supporters are still going to be out in full force, Southern Lee Boosters President Vince Wenger said, adding that the rivalry did indeed seem just a little more intense this year.
“I hate to say it hasn’t been in the past, but now being in the same conference and [with the game] at the end of the season instead of the beginning, it’s just much, much bigger,” Wenger said. “... It would be good to get the win, send the seniors off right.”
The schools both have student cheerleaders, but as the boosters president, it’s Wenger’s job to be Southern Lee’s biggest cheerleader among adults in town, racking up support and donations for the team. And speaking to the small community this rivalry game is played in, Wenger is actually cousins with Mike Setzer, the president of the Lee Senior Boosters.
Setzer wasn’t available to talk when reached Tuesday, but Wenger said he enjoys leading the boosters because adults in the area take the game every bit as seriously as the students — and maybe even more.
“There’s more trash talking between the adults than the kids,” he said. “After the game, they’ll probably all hang out together.”
Wenger and Peace declined to make predictions about Friday’s game although based on the two teams’ records, the Yellow Jackets are the favorite. Peace said that as long as the team keeps its focus, he’ll feel good about their chances.
“We’re just hoping to continue like we’ve been playing,” he said. “We’ve been consistent, and we’ll just try to keep that up and not get caught up in the hype.”
As for the Cavaliers, Wenger said despite the team’s underdog status, he’s still preparing for a big tailgate for supporters before the game and is expecting a large number of orange-clad fans to make the game feel barely like an away game whatsoever.
“That’s the good thing about Southern,” he said. “Whether we’re winning or losing, we’ve got the best parents, best supporters, best fans. ... And if we lose, well, just get ready for basketball season.”
The Cavaliers men’s basketball team has indeed outplayed their crosstown rivals in recent years, although Peace — who also serves as head coach of the Yellow Jackets men’s basketball team — said he was going to let his team’s play speak for itself.
“We’re looking pretty good, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Peace said. “I’ve never been one for smack talk, but I will be looking forward to those two games against them.”
Getting back to football, Wenger said he’ll be at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center well ahead of kickoff hosting the tailgate, and Peace urged fans to arrive at the stadium itself “as early as possible” in order to be able to get everyone seated in time.