ELKHART — While no sports rivalry is unrivaled, this is one of those precious few that rival any.
Central and Memorial get it on in boys high school basketball for the 68th time tonight (Nov. 30) at North Side Gym, and as a little added bonus — the kind that’s hardly needed for these annual John Longfellow Trophy collisions between neighbors who literally share a home — they enter the matchup undefeated at the same time for the first time in 11 years.
Yes, it’s early, but the Blue Blazers, under new coach Troy Noble, are 2-0, while the relatively raw Crimson Chargers won their only game so far when they beat Elkhart Christian 69-60 on Tuesday.
To be sure, this is a different Charger team than the extraordinary one that obliterated Central 69-38 a year ago, good for the largest margin of victory in the history of series, but it’s still one that can be expected to scrap.
It’s shaping up as a different Blazer club as well.
“I’m very concerned about their size and strength inside,” says Memorial coach Mark Barnhizer, who owns a 5-3 record in the series. “They’re a little older and bigger in there than we are. They’re playing hard. I think it’ll be another knock-down, drag-out.”
Most have been. The Chargers’ uncharacteristically lopsided win a year ago snapped a 33-33 deadlock in an all-time series that often features to-the-wire contests.
Last season’s game drew about 3,500 fans — yep, that’s down from the heyday days of high school basketball as our world becomes increasingly splintered in its interests, but isn’t it telling that a year ago we also ran an editorial saluting the downtown turnouts of 2,500, 1,500, 1,100 and 500 for other events that same weekend, while being accustomed enough regarding the basketball not to mention it?
The point is, basketball’s still king around here around this time.
“I think if anything, this early, sometimes you can focus on this game too much,” Barnhizer says, “(in that) a win makes you think you’re better than you are and a loss makes you think you’re worse than you are. It’s obviously a big game for the kids and the town, but it’s not a conference game and it’s not like it’s as big as when we play each other in a sectional game, but it is a lot of fun.”
The kind of fun Noble has been hearing about during his first few months in the area.
He’s looking forward to his inaugural firsthand exposure to it, even though he’s also hardly new to meaningful rivalries over the course of his many travels as a coach.
“Oh, wow, there are a few, but probably the best has been Parkland and Danville,” Noble says about a pair of Illinois junior colleges. Noble was a head coach at Parkland and an assistant at Danville.
“You’re talking two schools about 30 minutes apart, both wearing green and gold. It was about as blood-thirsty as it gets in college basketball,” Noble says.
“And then for high school, I was an assistant at Covington, and I believe Covington and Attica have met more times than any two schools in the history of Indiana,” Noble says. “It’s something like 220, and they’re about 10 wins apart in those games.”
As for the business at hand, senior Markese McGuire is the undisputed leading threat on the Chargers’ side. He collected 35 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in the opener. Sophomore Cameron Maxwell added 12 points on four triples, while senior James Hershberger had 10 points, six assists and four steals in his first start.
For the Blazers, slick guard Terell Street had 18 points and four steals in his lone game this season, fellow senior JJ Stahl is averaging 15.5 points and five other players are at 5.5 to 11.
Street’s played just the one game because he’s one of six Central players who must sit out any two of the first 10 under an IHSAA ruling that was documented here earlier this week.
“Terell Street’s going to play against us,” Barnhizer says with a smile. “I doubt any of those guys are sitting out this game.”
Anthony Anderson is The Elkhart Truth’s assistant sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ÿ Memorial (1-0) vs. Central (2-0) at North Side Gym
Ÿ Concord (0-0) at Glenn (0-3)
Ÿ Jimtown (1-0) at Clinton Christian (1-1)
Ÿ Bremen (1-1) at Goshen (2-0)
Ÿ SB Riley (2-0) at Northridge (0-2)
Ÿ Triton (1-1) at NorthWood (0-0)
Ÿ Prairie Heights (1-0) at Fairfield (0-1)
Ÿ Elkhart Christian (0-1) at Hamilton (1-1)
Ÿ Wawasee (1-1) at Manchester (0-2)
Ÿ Westview (2-0) at Churubusco (0-1)
Ÿ New Prairie (1-0) at Marian (0-0)
Ÿ Goshen vs. Central at North Side Gym
Ÿ Prairie Heights at Bethany Christian (0-2)
Ÿ West Noble (2-0) at Wawasee
Ÿ FW North (2-0 before DeKalb Friday) at Penn (0-0)
Ÿ FW Luers (0-0) at Marian (0-0), girl/boy varsity doubleheader beginning with girls game at 5 p.m.