With the abundance of great football being played in Central Texas these days — the China Spring vs. La Vega annual tilt or Waco High vs. University — sometimes the smaller schools get lost in the limelight.
It’s not as though these teams have been hiding in the bushes the past several decades. Take Class 2A, for example. Some of the best football in our area in recent years has come from the lower-populated high schools.
When Crawford and Mart get together, the game has a buzz. It will always have that rivalry feel, no matter what’s on the line. The two teams have bounced in and out of each other’s districts in the recent past, but no matter who the teams are chasing each year for the district title, the respect lingers.
“Mart is one of the premier programs in the state of Texas,” Crawford head coach Delbert Kelm said. “There’s just no arguing that … they’re one of the great ones. Just look at what they’ve done over the years. As far as how districts shake out, I stopped trying to figure out all of that a long time ago. I used to try and guess and I was always wrong, so we just have to see.”
Take, for example, last year’s playoff game between the two schools at Waco ISD Stadium. It turned out to be one of the better postseason games to be played at the field, with Crawford narrowly hanging on for a seven-point win. The Pirates made it to the state championship game that season. The Panthers had the talent to make it, but ran into a familiar team with just as much talent.
The feuds don’t stop with the Panthers and Pirates. Just down the road from Crawford on Highway 84, Valley Mills has been playing schools like Crawford, Mart and McGregor for decades. New head coach Sam Moody, who played his high school football at Crawford, knows the rivalries have been going on for as long as he can remember.
“We battled Troy for the top spot when I was at Crawford,” Moody said. “Fortunately for us, those games weren’t very close.”
Moody played a key role in the Pirates’ state championship run in the 2004 season. Crawford was head and shoulders better than everyone else in their district in Moody’s years. But proximity played a role in who Crawford valued as its main competition.
“We all knew the kids at McGregor,” he said. “I mean, we lived six minutes away from each other. I still have relationships with those kids.”
A lot of the players now, especially the freshmen and even the kids in junior high, have heard stories from their parents and even grandparents about their days in high school.
“The community and the kids, they get fired up for these games,” Moody said. “But we try to tone it down and make it another game. But it’s hard because the kids get so hyped up for it, they forget what they’re doing and tend to think more about the rivalry and not enough about their responsibilities.”
Rivalries can sometimes bring out the worst in people, though, as countless numbers of stories are overheard around these towns, boasting of hijinks pulled by opposing teams the week of their games. But Moody claims innocence, saying his team did their talking on the field.
“We weren’t going over there burning any school logos on their field or anything,” he said. “I mean, it was pretty relaxed because we had respect for each other.”