Small-town rivalry still alive and well?

Ah, rivalries.
There have been some good ones in sports lore dating back nearly 100 years. Red Sox versus Yankees. Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs (OK, the flame has flickered a bit in recent years). Celtics vs. Lakers. Canada vs. Russia. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer. Tiger Woods vs. knee surgery.
Eagles vs. Muskies?
The rivalry between these latter two isn’t considered such on a global scale, but there’s no mistaking the animosity between these two Northwestern Ontario towns (Dryden actually is classified as a city . . . go figure) has existed for decades.
In sports, the term “rivalry” normally is used when both competitors or teams have a lot of history between them, and the stakes are inevitably high each time they meet.
Often a win over Dryden comes with bragging rights. And at playoff time, it generally means advancing up the ladder to OFSAA (at the high school level).
Sure, the case could be made that Kenora also fits into the same category, but it doesn’t have the mill anymore.
Dryden and Fort are similar in so many ways that it divides the two competitively. Dryden’s population in 2006 was listed at 8,195; Fort at 8,103. Dryden has Chris Pronger; Fort has Duncan Keith.
They share such common bonds and respect for one another that losing to the other is like getting beat by your sibling.
Current Dryden resident Bryan Doherty graduated from Dryden High in 2000 but still can remember the battles he had with Fort Frances.
“Every year was different. One year we would have a better soccer team and they would have a better basketball team,” he recalled.
“But yeah, I would have to say there’s more of a rivalry between Dryden and Fort Frances,” Doherty added. “I think Dryden and Kenora get along with each a little better than with Fort Frances.”
But is the rivalry still as potent today as it was a decade ago and beyond?
Certainly Dryden and Fort square off in more than just high school athletics. Both have teams in the SIJHL, with the Ice Dogs getting the best of the Sabres a year ago. But not all of the players on either side have grown up in the area and know the history there.
The two towns see plenty of each other on the adult soccer circuit, too. Dryden came to town last summer and ran out with the men’s “Ball Blast” title. Fort was hoping to return the favour this time around before the tournament ultimately was cancelled.
That’s OK, the Fort boys surely will have long memories and look for redemption down the road.
But you’d expect playing the same teams so much would create some bad blood—to the point where you hate to lose to them more than any other team.
Former Muskie quarterback Andrew George doesn’t think that bad blood still exists, and can recall many a time when the rivalry reached a boiling point during his tenure at Fort High.
“School spirit is dying in sports. I remember hating Dryden,” George recalled. “I was dressed and on the sidelines in Grade 8 while we kicked the [expletive] out of them 64 or something to nothing.
“A brawl broke out at the end of the game. Players, coaches got suspended.
“Being a football coach now, I don’t see the same type of intensity between the schools,” George added. “Not that a brawl is anything positive, but it went to show you how passionate the players and coaches were, and perhaps the result of playing Dryden in football three times a year.”
Rivalries need to have strong fan bases to put a match to the flame, and some would suggest attendance for Muskie hockey games and other sports, that once played to sell-out crowds, no longer have that same interest which generated that sense of community pride and passion.
There can be no underestimating the boost a team can have simply by the enthusiasm of the crowd cheering them on.
No doubt the two respective towns still get geared up to face off, but the big question remains: Is there still that undeniable pride in today’s athletes when they pull on that Muskie jersey?
I haven’t been around long enough to compare today’s Fort High athletes to those from yesteryear, but I have a feeling school spirit isn’t where it once was in the days before text messaging and Facebook were more attractive options than coming out to support your fellow students.

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