A century of rivalry
DCTF's Samantha Emerson dives inside the state's oldest rivalry: Bay City vs. El Campo.
Even though Texas is one of country’s younger states, it’s home to many long-standing traditions - and for something to hang around for over a century, you know it has to be good. Native Texans’ minds probably swirl with images of age-old Texas fixtures like Dr Pepper, the State Fair, and the Red River Rivalry. For football junkies in the gulf area, a high school rivalry puts the Longhorn’s own with Oklahoma to the test of time.
El Campo and Bay City have the longest running high school football rivalry in the state of Texas. When that exact rivalry started, or how, is all credited to rumors, but the number of years has for certain reached the century club. That number tends to float between 102 and a 104: for whatever reason there seems to be a discrepancy between years the game has been played, and each of the schools’ win records for the annual game.
Head coach Bob Gillis has been coaching the El Campo Ricebirds through the motions of the Bay City game for the past fifteen years. His first time to experience the game was in 1992. Both him and Bay City’s head coach were first timers to the rivalry and they were shocked to see how prepared the town was for the game.
“I remember at six o clock they opened the gate to the stadium and there were already 6,500 people waiting at the door," Gillis said. "The game didn’t even start until seven. Me and Warren just looked at each other and said, ‘Man, they take this stuff seriously.’”
El Campo tight end and Rice commit Cole Hunt knows exactly what it’s like to jump into the middle of the rivalry. Hunt moved to El Campo in the eighth grade, but he already had a good idea of the nature of the competition.
“I used to come and watch it before I even lived here. People come from all over the area. When I came in, Bay City was one those things I would tease them about, just because they’re serious about it,” said Hunt.
Like many schools across the state, it’s always a struggle for programs to look beyond rival teams, and for coach Gillis, that means keeping mum.
“The coaches don’t talk about it a lot because we’re concerned about next week,” Gillis said. “Kids put so much into it that sometimes we have to remind them that there is life after Bay City.”
Both schools this year are seeing changes though, and this marks the first time in years that El Campo and Bay City will not be in the same district. El Campo was affected by realignment and is making the move down a classification to 3A while Bay City is under new leadership with Don Burk at the helm.
Just because numbers in history have been jumbled and districts have reconstructed doesn’t mean the Ricebirds and Blackcats won’t face off for their 103rd, 104th, or hundred-and-whatever game this year. The teams are set to face-off once again, this time on September 14 in Bay City. And for right now, El Campo holds the lead in the win column.
For a game that some may say holds more excitement and tradition than homecoming itself, years of competition have taught both schools to hold each other to high esteem. Those searching for reckless competition and dirty play-calling may need to look beyond the bay area. But for those looking to watch a game with almost as much history behind it as college-level rivalries, a trip to the coast in September may be your best bet.
“It’s not a nasty rivalry. We shake hands at the end of the game because we have alot of respect for each other. That’s what high school football is about,” Gillis said.
Samantha Emerson is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com.