Texas' Top Ten High School Rivalries: Denison vs. Sherman
By Travis Stewart, DCTF Staff Writer
The Battle of the Ax: Sherman vs. DenisonYou could call it the Granddaddy of them all. Literally.
Forget World War II -- this rivalry was already several years old before World War I. It's the only annual game in Texas that's been played for 100 years or more. It's only four games off the pace (97) for the state's lead in most matchups played in a series. And don't think all that what-have-you-done-for-me-lately talk will apply here, because the last two outings have been one-possession games that weren't decided until the final seconds.
It's the Battle of the Ax, and boy is it a good one.
Sherman and Denison are only eight miles apart, a pretty small stretch of land that's stuffed with more history than an encyclopedia, and when you're that close together -- a stone's throw in geographical context -- it's almost a given that any annual game between the two cities is going to carry some weight. Remember, it's pretty hard to stomach a loss when you see the quarterback's dad at the grocery store for the next 364 days, or pump your gas 10 feet from the opposition's linebackers coach all offseason.
"Well, you've got two cities that are so close," White said. "I don't think people realize how much we butt up against each other. The kids all know each other. (Sherman's) got kids who played for them whose dads played here, and we've got kids whose dads played there. You've got really two different communities ... it's kind of a natural rivalry."
As hard as it is to believe, in matchups like this one, a state title can mean less than a historical trophy. You might win 10 consecutive state championships with a 15-1 record every year, but if that one loss is to your cross-town rival, that's a big fat fly in your celebratory soup. Preseason, regular season, postseason, it doesn't much matter unless your team comes home with the Ax.
"Typical deal in 2004 -- we had the best season in school history when we got to the semifinals and lost to Ennis," said Sherman coach Drew Young. "An older guy stopped me in Wal-Mart and said, 'Coach, you had a good season, you won the old Battle Ax.'"
"Yes, we did," Young replied.
"Well, how'd the rest of it go?"
"We got to the state semifinals, best season we've had here."
"Well, that's nice."
Starting to get the picture? Sherman vs. Denison isn't just an annual event or another name in the long list of Texas rivalries that have come to typify the state's infatuation with football; it's about pride, history, sportsmanship -- things that the Ax itself is supposed symbolize. As a matter of fact, the original Ax -- which is still in use today -- was first conceptualized by a Denison businessman named Jack Barker who wanted to both quell the animosity that began brewing in the 40s and to reanimate the principles of sportsmanship and excellence that the long-standing rivalry deserved. After first being introduced in 1949, the newly-named Battle of the Ax game has been played every year.
That said, there's certainly nothing wrong with a little bit of bragging, right?
"The year before last (2006), we had just gotten a brand new big scoreboard, and when we won, we ran across the board, 'The Ax is back all offseason,'" Young said.
That's nothing new for Sherman, which currently leads the series 52-37-6, but Denison has made a strong push over the past five years to even the score -- the Yellow Jackets have won four out of the last five, including last season's incredible 44-43 matchup, when Denison scored 20 unanswered fourth-quarter points to eek out a classic rivalry game victory.
"It was one of the best games I've ever been a part of. We were down 19 points with 10:45 left," said White. "We went down and scored, got a stop, went down and scored again, then tried an onside kick and got it. We scored again with 2:30 left, then they took it all the way down the field and tried to kick a field goal from the 20 or the 19, and one of our sophomores came off the edge and blocked it."
If you broaden the scope and look at the past 15 years, this has been a rivalry defined by streaks: in 1995-1997 (which were, as Young was quick to note, his first three years at Sherman), Denison won the Ax three straight times en route to three state finals appearances. Then the Bearcats took charge, winning four of the next five (1998-2002), only to watch the Yellow Jackets do the exact same from 2003 to the present. Talk about a see-saw affair.
And, as in most rivalries, there's going to be a little crossover. Sometimes kids transfer for one reason or another, or one coach will cross town for another job and so on -- that's part of being of so physically close. Then again, when you can often see the enemy from your kitchen window, family loyalties can be drawn pretty early.
"Most of the kids have known each other for years," Young said. "Some of the kids from Denison wind up going to Sherman, some of the kids from Sherman wind up going to Denison, but that doesn't happen very often. It's usually implanted in you from birth; if you're a Yellow Jacket, you're a Yellow Jacket; if you're a Bearcat, you're a Bearcat."
Editor's note: Special thanks to Brian Eaves, Denison High School Journalism Adviser, who provided the main photograph for this story, and Samantha Cunningham, Denison High School Journalism Staff Photographer, for the inset photograph.