By Dr. Zach Steele
TRUSSVILLE –When I moved to Trussville in 2003, fresh out of optometry school all I heard was that I have to attend the annual Clay vs. Hewitt game. My new home, which was an little old house on Oak Street, was right down the street, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
The game did not disappoint. Close the entire way, Clay pulled out a victory. But the pageantry and fanfare was second to none. It was high school sports as it was meant to be. Two schools separated by a couple of miles, laying their guts on the line. It was right there I realized I had moved to a place where one of the state’s best rivalries happened to be. I have attended pretty much every game since. It was something I’d brag about to relatives and in-laws who loved sports. I told them “You really should come with me to one of these games.”
And now, at least for the near future, it is gone.
From all accounts, it was the Hewitt side that decided to end the rivalry. I do not pretend to know the reasons why Hewitt thought it would be a good decision. And frankly, I don’t care. Because it is not a good decision. It’s just not.
From a financial standpoint it really is a head scratcher, if you consider that the game on a good year might draw 7000+ people at $7 a person. That’s nearly $50 K in gate receipt. I’ve been told the band boosters who work the concession stands make 40 percent of their proceeds for the entire season on this one game. That pays for uniforms and other expenses, I assume, for both schools.
It is no secret Hewitt has the deeper pockets. The Hewitt Trussville Athletic Foundation has full coffers for their football program. Clay does not have that luxury. This is partly because it is a newer school with fewer alumni and partly because Clay has a much smaller commercial base from which to draw sponsorship and donations.
As a matter of fact, the loss of the rivalry will really do damage to Clay’s athletic budget. I am sure it will hit the Hewitt athletic department too, but not nearly as hard.
But Hewitt now resides in a new region in 7A, and the closest opponent in that region is Gadsden. So expenses will be higher and money made from home games will likely be less just based on opponent’s mileage to get here.
Hewitt will return a game Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville in 2016. The other non-region opponents are Center Point, who will not bring many folks based on their home attendance, and Manatee, Florida.
From a fiscal standpoint, Hewitt is giving the appearance that they are not worried so much about the money. That’s a little insulting to donors and parents who contribute to the program.
From a public relations standpoint, it is worse.
First off, canceling the Clay series will appear as “waving the white flag”. No matter what the real reasons are, the perception is that Hewitt, who has lost the last 8 games in the series, has said “no mas”. And unfortunately, perception is reality.
I have heard the excuse that Hewitt doesn’t want to have the distraction of a rivalry game right before the playoffs begin. My response is “why not?” Most schools in the state play their rival in the last week of the season. Most colleges do, too.
On the other side, playing Hewitt the last game of the season did not seem to bother Clay-Chalkville in the least, as they made it to back to back 6A title games. And if that is a big problem, move the game to one of the other non region weeks. It could have been done if Hewitt wanted to.
I have also heard that Hewitt has nothing to gain from playing Clay. Other than seeing how you measure up to one of the best programs in the state, I guess I would agree. “To be the best, you must beat the best”. Haven’t we always been told that?
Maybe Hewitt-Trussville is looking for national recognition by playing Manatee and Montgomery Bell. But it was Clay-Chalkville that was ranked No. 6 in America by USA Today when the Huskies faced them in 2015.
If you want national attention, beating the highest nationally ranked team in Alabama, which is your rival, which happens to be across the street, is a pretty good place to start.
My hope is that the rivalry returns in 2017. It is like not playing the Iron Bowl, or the Red River Shootout. It doesn’t seem right to me as a fan that the best rivalry in Alabama disappears into thin air. I think most fans on both sides agree with me.