Sideline Slants

Say the words “sports rivalries” and some come immediately to mind: Oklahoma and Nebraska in college football; New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in Major League baseball; Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs in pro football.

Closer to home, the rivalry list would include KU and KSU; Hillsboro High School and Marion High School, HHS and Collegiate; and Tabor College and Bethel College.

A number of factors contribute to making a strong rivalry.

— A rivalry thrives when both teams are good.

It’s hard to have a healthy rivalry when one or both teams are weak.

Hillsboro and Collegiate have developed a good rivalry in football and basketball because they have had programs that are among the best in Class 3A. Tabor has had a good rivalry with a number of area basketball teams because the Bluejays are routinely among the best in the conference.

Conversely, I’m not aware of any college that has a strong rivalry with Tabor in football. When you finish at or near the bottom in the conference year after year, it’s hard to develop much of a rivalry. That will change if Tabor keeps improving.

Even the most diehard Jayhawk and Wildcat fans have to admit that the KU and KSU rivalry has lost some luster. KU’s domination over KSU in basketball and KSU’s domination over KU in football the past decade makes it hard to generate enthusiasm.

— Rivalries thrive when teams regularly play each other.

The strongest rivalries tend to develop among the best teams in the league or conference, because they regularly play each other and battle for bragging rights and superiority.

Rivalries suffer when teams don’t play each other regularly. Even though Marion and Hillsboro have had good football teams in recent years, the rivalry was stronger 30 years ago when both teams used to be in the same league. Now they aren’t. Granted, they have played each other annually because they are in the same football district, but that is about to change due to realignment.

— Geographic proximity is a significant factor in rivalries.

In-state rivalries or border battles are the most natural.

— A rivalry in one sport doesn’t automatically translate to a rivalry in other sports.

Hillsboro and Collegiate may be strong rivals in football and boys basketball, but I’m not sure the same intensity is there in other sports. I suspect that the HHS volleyball and girls’ basketball teams have stronger rivals than Collegiate.

Few schools are equally good in every sport. Hence, the golf team may develop an entirely different rivalry from the wrestling team or baseball team.

— A rivalry can bring out the best and worst in athletes, coaches and fans.

A good rivalry has the potential to drive both teams to greater accomplishments. It’s a classic case of “keeping up with the Joneses.” No players want to let their rivals get the better of them.

It’s possible to lose perspective. On more than one occasion a coach has been fired or resigned under pressure because of too many losses to a chief rival.

Some Hillsboro fans may be glad to see Collegiate moving to the other division in the league. I’m not so sure. A good rivalry will be weakened.

Playing a team that is consistently among the best helps you find out how good you are and how good you can be. It gives you a goal to strive toward. You know that if you can play with them, you can play with anyone. You work harder to improve.

More often than not, Hillsboro holds its own with Collegiate. When the stakes are higher, the victories are more exhilarating and the losses are more disappointing.

But when you come back down to earth after a great victory or pick yourself up after a low, you realize how fortunate you are to be part of something special.

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