The game that defined Cincinnati west side football for the better part of 80 years has at least two games left. When Cincinnati Elder and Cincinnati Western Hills take the field
Friday for their 80th meeting, it will be with the secure knowledge
that it won’t be the last. The teams will meet again next year, but after that…who knows.
The game that defined Cincinnati west side football for the better part of 80 years has at least two games left.
When Cincinnati Elder and Cincinnati Western Hills take the field Friday for their 80th meeting, it will be with the secure knowledge that it won’t be the last.
Rumors that the series would end after years of one-sided games were silenced Thursday when Elder and Western Hills agreed to continue one of Southwest Ohio’s oldest and most storied rivalries for one more season Elder athletic director Dave Dabbelt said.
With Elder a two-time state champion and perennial playoff contender this decade, and Western Hills struggling, some felt the traditional game was a burden on Elder’s playoff hopes.
“You look at the Harbin points and this year (Western Hills) has won three or four games so it doesn’t hurt us that bad,” Dabbelt said. “I really think their program is on the way back up. I really think they’re a team that next year could end up being 6-4 or a 5-5 team and if that’s the case it’s still a pretty good Harbin point game for us. If we can keep some of the tradition alive and help the Western Hills community bond together, that’s an important thing to consider.”
The tradition started in 1929 with Elder winning 12-0 at Redland Field and became a staple of Cincinnati’s west side. A neighborhood rivalry at first, the game grew into tradition, being played on Thanksgiving Day until the development of the current Ohio playoff system.
Elder leads the series at 60-17-2 but the games were competitive early on. Through the first 21 games, the records were even at 10-10-1. Since 1978, however, West High has won just three times.
With changes in the demographic of both schools, there is little left of a neighborhood rivalry. The schools are only a half mile apart but the students come from vastly different backgrounds. Western Hills is a Cincinnati Public School drawing many students from the inner city, while Elder is one of Cincinnati’s top private schools, charging more than $7,000 a year in tuition.
As the changes in both schools progressed, the scoring margin widened. Elder dominated the 1960s, shutting out the Mustangs seven times. Despite the scores, the game was big enough to be played at Riverfront Stadium from 1973 until 1978. The final game at Riverfront also marked the end of the Thanksgiving Day game.
Elder coach Doug Ramsey said the game, which Elder has won by scores of 48-0, 51-0 and 49-0 the last three years is good for Elder because it gives the Panthers a chance to play a lot of players, but was noncommittal about the series’ future.
“I don’t know (if the rivalry should continue),” he said. “It’s not what it used to be. It used to be a neighborhood rival and that’s not it anymore. We don’t have very many city kids.
“I think (our kids) like to play the game,” Ramsey added. “In the last few years its been a chance for us to play a lot of people. The kids enjoy that standpoint of it.”
For Western Hills’ coach Chris MacFarland and the Mustangs, this game is on their minds all season long.
“That, (wanting to be the team that finally beats Elder), is the part that’s easy to motivate them with,” MacFarland said. “They all have the thought of let’s be the team that beats them and see how that off season goes.”
The schools have little in common aside from their locations. Ramsey is in his 12th year coaching at Elder, MacFarland in his second. Elder’s stadium, “The Pit” is nationally recognized as a great high school venue while Western Hills lacks a home stadium this season.
Still, the game has meaning. For alumni, its an old rivalry. For Elder, it’s often a week 10 playoff tune-up and a chance to get everyone some playing time. For West High it’s one game a year with a guaranteed packed house, playoff atmosphere and the hope, that each year could be year that Elder’s streak, currently at 18 wins in a row, ends.
The game has meaning, just a vastly different meaning for each school.
“We’ve had the game at home since West High changed their field situation over there so its always senior night for us,” Ramsey said. “It’s important for the seniors to go out and play well and have their parents on the field so there’s still some excitement around the stadium when we play West High.”
“I love being a part of big rivalries,” MacFarland said. “Anytime you can have a situation like that and strive to win that game, that could be a hallmark for your own career, your whole school. That’s a memory those kids would live with forever.”