Sunday, November 5, 2017

At 91, the Carolinas' Oldest Rivalry Shows No Signs of Slowdown

Asheville School's Arbogast Field (Photo / T. Flynn)

Note: This article was originally written for the Asheville Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Last Saturday, under gray skies and with a light rain falling, the Asheville School Blues and Christ School Greenies faced each other for the 91st time, this year at the Blues' Arbogast Football Field.

Approaching the field, Richard Jones, a first-year teacher at Asheville School, prepared to announce the rivalry from the Blues’ press box. He described the annual pep rally and bonfire that precede the Christ School game each year. “Our seniors come down the hill from the gym and are the first to light it,” said Jones. “It’s an amazing spectacle; I’ve never seen a bonfire quite like that before. This is my first year here and I’m happy to take part in these traditions as a new faculty member.”

The field and its surroundings comprise a scene straight out of John Irving’s New England, with the Blue Ridge rather than the Berkshire mountains as a backdrop. Arbogast is flanked by trees on three sides and a hill that winds back up to the school on a fourth. The bleachers are minimal on either side, and the press box to which Jones is heading is in fact the middle tier of three-tiers of scaffolding, with planking overhead the only protection from the elements.

Down the hill to the left side of the field, the Greenies are assembled on the sideline in their visitors’ white jerseys and pants topped by green helmets.

Paul Krieger, the headmaster at Christ School, is among the team’s faithful that extend back from behind the team along the curve of the track to the foot of the hill. For Krieger, this is his 18th year experiencing the rivalry.

 “It’s a focal point of the year for the kids. The game comes at the end of a very exciting week. We have all kinds of festivities on campus,” said Krieger. “There’s a lot of spirit building and it culminates with today.”

The game is the oldest high school rivalry in the Carolinas among public or private schools. It was first held in 1911.

“There are certainly ebbs and flows,” said Krieger when asked about what he’s seen over his nearly two decades at the school. “Asheville School had the advantage for a number of years and we’ve had a good run recently. It’s more about the festivities and the character-building and the excitement of playing in a big game.”

As kickoff neared, the captains of the opposing squads, four apiece, marched out to midfield for the coin toss as the rain continues.

A minute into the game a herd of Christ School students came charging from behind a low rise to the side of the end zone hill. Most are wearing white Greenies’ baseball caps and all are roaring as they approach.

On the field, senior Blues’ quarterback Ahmad Galimore assembles his huddle. Galimore also plays defensive back, punts, and returns kicks for the home team. Asheville School, heavy underdogs in this year’s game, has an early drive stall out at the Christ School 35.

Just beyond the end zone nearest to the school, Stephanie Gibbs makes her rooting interests clear with two large green buttons pinned to her jacket, adorned with the numbers 10 and 75. They are the jersey numbers worn by her sons, junior running back Sidney Gibbs, and sophomore lineman Saevion Gibbs. It’s her first experience of the game as her sons are recent transfers from Owen High School.

“I love it. They’ve grown so much as young men,” said Gibbs of her their experience to date at Christ School. The conversation is abruptly interrupted by a shout of “Go, Sid!” as #10 comes sweeping around the corner toward the end zone in plain view of his biggest fan.

After the first quarter, the Blues at 4-5 are holding their own against the 7-1 Greenies and the game remains a scoreless tie. It’s Gibbs who puts the first points on the board with a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Around the bend in the track to the Blues’ sideline, Carter Starkey, 9, stands near the side of the end zone with his face and hair painted with blue stripes. He’s sporting a navy blue Asheville School shirt, blue and silver beads, and a pair of inflated Asheville School noise makers that he’s putting to good use.

“It’s really exciting to see the Blues play against their rival,” said Carter who confesses that basketball is his first love when it comes to sports. His father Dave is nearby and his mother Leslie works in the school’s College Office. When asked how long it took to get Carter fully outfitted to root on the Blues, the elder Starkey replied, “Preparation began hours ago.”

On the field, the Greenies have moved to a 13-0 lead behind a touchdown pass from junior quarterback West Shuler. Shuler is the cousin of injured starter Navy Shuler and nephew of former NFL quarterback and current Greenies’ assistant Heath Shuler.

On the next series, Galimore tries to return fire as he quickly hits Nick Albritton for a long gain up the left sideline in front of the Christ School bench. He is drilled on the play, but limps forward with the squad up to scrimmage.

The next play, however, is an interception that takes the Greenies to the Blues’ one-yard line. Another Christ School touchdown, this one on a keeper from Shuler, has the visitors suddenly in command, 20-0, after a silent first quarter.

The Blues answer this time. Connor Davis, in at quarterback, hits Galimore, lined up at wide receiver, in the back of the end zone for a score. By halftime, the Greenies own a 28-6 lead.

At the break, players from both teams walk to the far end of Arbogast. There are no locker rooms, and in a rivalry dating back more than a century, the setting remains decidedly old school as they sit in neutral corners just beyond the end zone.

The Greenies quickly move to a 35-6 lead after halftime ends. Gibbs remains at her post beyond the back of the end zone as her son Sidney helps march Christ School into place for a field goal that has them up 38-6, still in the third.

The ensuing kickoff is taken by the Blues’ J.P. Schill, a linebacker and all-conference receiver for Asheville School who is also the son of head coach Gus Schill. Along with Galimore, he sees nearly constant service on the field.

As he looks up toward the descending kick, a swarming pack of Greenies converge en masse toward him. Schill, uncowed by the 32-point deficit or the pack, plunges headlong into their midst, fighting for a few extra yards to start his team’s drive. The intensity of the collision reflects the intensity of the rivalry, unabated by the score, or with time. With 3:10 in the third, Christ School's lead hits 47-6.

A late drive by the Blues advances the ball down to the Christ School 11, as a slew of Greenies in clean jerseys now man the defense. An interception ends Asheville School’s shot at a late morale-boosting touchdown with 1:14 left in the game.

After the final whistle, the two teams walk out to midfield, with some Christ School players wearing green sideline capes that would have been right at home at a rain-soaked Giants-Packers game at Yankee Stadium c. 1962.

At midfield, the Fayssoux – Arbogast Trophy, named in joint honor of former Christ School coach Richard Fayssoux and Asheville School coach B.H. Arbogast, is presented to Christ School athletic director Scott Willard.

Willard paraphrases John Wooden’s famous “It’s courage that counts,” quote to the larger crowd before turning his direction toward his team. “We have playoffs coming up, but right now, let’s say we hold onto this for one more year.” The Greenies shout their agreement in unison as he presents the trophy to the team and its head coach Mark Moroz.

“This is a rivalry game, you can throw out records,” said Moroz as he walked with the trophy in hand toward the scoreboard for a team photo. “You can see in the first quarter our guys were not ready. Anything can happen in these games, but I’m proud of our guys for holding together.”

On the far sideline, Gus Schill is now out on the field mixing with fans, players, and parents. J.P. is his third son to play for the Blues, with older brothers David and Michael now graduated.

“That’s a fine football team over there. They’re well-coached, their school is behind them, and they’re doing a great job,” said Schill. “Our hat is off to them. I think Christ School could very easily be undefeated. I think they have a really good shot to go to the championship.”

He then praises Galimore, his quarterback, and the versatility and leadership he’s shown this year after arriving at the school as a receiver. He also acknowledges the hard work of his son, J.P., and the rest of the Blues’ squad.

“Obviously we’d rather the results had been different,” said the younger Schill, who approaches from behind his father. “It’s always a blast playing in the oldest prep rivalry. I have a certain pride in being a football player – that’s something very special to me. We’re undersized, but we do what we can and we always fight.”

At 91, the Carolinas' Oldest Rivalry Shows No Signs of Slowdown

Asheville School's Arbogast Field (Photo / T. Flynn) Note: This article was originally written for the Asheville Citizen-Times A...