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Could Roncalli-Christian become newest rivalry?

Aberdeen Christian’s Brent Ekanger, left and Aberdeen Roncalli’s Maddox May, right, go after the ball at the tip of Thursday night’s game at the Roncalli High School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 2/18/2021

Rivalries have to start someplace.

There are many things that go into making a rivalry: geographic location, past history, shared goals of winning a conference title, etc. I once did an entire project entitled Anatomy of a Rivalry.

Some rivalries (think Yankees-Red Sox) date back decades. Others are much more recent. And while some rivalries are bitter, they certainly don’t have to be. In this age of cooperatives and shared coaches and players, many past rivalries have taken on a different tone.

For many years, Aberdeen had an inner-city rivalry between Central and Roncalli. It has now gotten to the point where the two schools only compete against each other in tennis and golf. While that rivalry has all but died out, could a new one be starting up?

Last week, Roncalli Gym was the site of the first ever varsity basketball games between Roncalli and Aberdeen Christian. The facility was loaded with vocal fans who witnessed two competitive games.

“It was fun to be a part of that new beginning of Christian and Cavalier basketball games,” said former Central basketball standout and current Christian Superintendent Eric Kline. “Hopefully, they’ll continue in the future.”

Kline recalls the days of the old Central-Roncalli games, which often took on a life of their own.

“It was very competitive and the fans had an opportunity to just have a little bit more fun than maybe they would have at a normal game,” Kline said. “I also remember it felt as an athlete a lot like more of a game at the YMCA, because we did know each other. It’s just kind of different playing against your friends. It just has a different feel to it, but it was always very fun.”

Central and Roncalli met once during the regular season and often in the post season since they were in the same district. Fans always knew when that contest was coming up.

“The community always was excited about it,” Kline said. “It was just like, ‘Oh Roncalli and Central are playing, let’s go and cheer them on.’ I just remember the excitement about it and the rivalry along with it as well.”

Regardless of who won (records will indicate most of the time it was the bigger school Central), each meeting brought out extra adrenaline and emotion.

“It’s interesting that you don’t want the game to become personal or to get personal, but when you’ve got two good teams that are competitive and they want to show the other one that they can beat team, that’s part of healthy competition,” Kline said. “The goal is to play hard and to play strong, but then keep it all in perspective, too. It’s just a game, but yet you also appreciated the physicality of it and just the intensity of it. Because it was intense from start to finish, all four quarters.”

Not saying that Roncalli-Christian will ever become a rivalry. There will need to be a few more battles that take place before that happens. But the pieces appear to be in place for some interesting games on the horizon.

One thing is for sure, if this does become a rivalry, it will likely be a friendly one.

“Roncalli has been very helpful to our school as far as cooperative agreements with our football players, with our tennis, with some golf. And they also prepare our lunches and we pick them up every day,” Kline said. “We have a partnership and to be able to have our student-athletes play against each other is I think really special.”

That mutual respect was on display before, during and after the game last week. Before the contest, Jackson Isakson (Christian basketball player and Roncalli football player) was honored before the game for kicking a school record 49-yard field goal last fall. Players from both schools who were involved in that play took to the floor to help celebrate the moment as Isakson was presented a football.

“That’s what athletics is all about,” Kline said. “It’s about these young adults getting a chance to play sports and learn life skills and build friendships.”

Following an intense contest, players and coaches from the two schools then met at center court for a moment of prayer.

“It is so much more than just who wins and who loses and the competition behind it,” Kline said. “It’s all about the relationships that are built.”

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