Former rivals become teammates for new year


photo by Erin Kleekamp

Sarah Kinney

RBHS football players started off their season in a three-way competition with Hickman High School and Battle High School on Aug. 23, 2013.
RBHS football players started off their season in a three-way competition with Hickman High School and Battle High School on Aug. 23, 2013. Photo by Wynter Bresaw

Seventeen-year-old junior Kole Hinton was among the select group of students whose expectations of their high school years changed alongside the redrawn school district lines in 2013. Hinton spent his sophomore year at RBHS playing football and track, expecting to keep participating  these sports as a Bruin until he graduated.
However, that changed when he found out he was about to become a Spartan. Hinton had to alter his plans for the next two years as he prepared to join Battle Highschool as a part of their first graduating class.
Hinton accompanied BHS in its inaugural year term, joining the ranks of other Columbia public high schools, Hickman High School and RBHS. With a brand new school comes the development of brand new traditions, and developing that sense of community was BHS’s main goal throughout their first year.
That sense of togetherness and trust can all arise from a variety of situations in a school, but Hinton, a member of the BHS football team, thinks one aspect of high school that really defines these components is sports. That’s why it was so essential for BHS to foster superb sports teams during their first year.
“As a football team,” Hinton said, “we like to try to show our support for everything in the school and build school spirit that way.”
Hinton said he and other juniors on the football team attend as many other BHS sporting events  and join as many clubs as they can. He thinks this sets a valuable example for the rest of the school.
The two other Columbia public high schools have already garnered their reputations, having had a long-standing rivalry for as long as the two schools have existed. Events such as the Providence Bowl–the annual RBHS-HHS football game usually held at Faurot Field–highlight the rivalry between Columbia’s north and south sides.
But now, Columbia’s west side is home to BHS. Between developing new traditions, such as weekly football team dinners and pregame rituals–ones that are too top-secret for Hinton to share–and breaking out into the high school rivalry scene, BHS sports teams have had their work cut out for them.
And, from the views of teachers and coaches, it looks like that work was done and done well; BHS head football coach Justin Conyers, who had spent 10 years at RBHS as their football defensive coordinator, said most BHS sports teams did better than expected in terms of both camaraderie and performance. Conyers said he knew having to develop a brand new team out of a conglomerate of kids would be difficult, so he focused most of his coaching energy on turning the team into a family.
“The No. 1 thing that I was expecting from my team was F.A.M.I.L.Y.,” Conyers said.  “This stands for Forget About Me I Love You.  I want a family atmosphere both in my locker room and off the field.”
That communal trust and hopefulness initiated by Conyers travelled not only into the football team, but also continued to circulate throughout the whole school. BHS sophomore football player Jerrion Nelson said the high school would not have been the same without Conyer’s spirit.
“The Battle football team brought the whole school together,” Nelson said, “like a family. We weren’t thinking about anybody else or whether we had been Bruins or Kewpies last year. That feeling spread. Everybody on the Battle football team just wanted to play football.”
While those new family members at BHS work on strengthening new teams, classes and a student body as a whole, student athletes here were grinding away at practice as Bruins always do. As the year progressed, RBHS athletes begin to prepare for big-time rivalry games against HHS, the pioneering Providence neighbor.
But even though BHS, RBHS and HHS all have the same literal relationship–the three public high schools in Columbia–RBHS student attitudes toward BHS differ from those they have against HHS, particularly in terms of a sports rivalry.
RBHS senior football players said they find BHS of as much of a rival because the school is so new.
“This year, I didn’t see Battle as much of a rival,” said RBHS senior football wide-receiver and safety Zach Reuter. “The history between Rock Bridge and Hickman always makes [games between those two schools] a much bigger ordeal.”
That relationship between the two schools has been around more than 30 years; HHS’s building was constructed in 1927, while RBHS was established in 1973. RBHS fellows mentor David Graham remembers attending RBHS from 1983-1986 and attended the first RBHS-HHS football game Nov. 11, 1981.
“Hickman had always wanted to play Rock Bridge [in football],” Graham said, “but Rock Bridge had always said no because we were so much smaller and were afraid we were going to lose. But, then we won, seven to nothing. It was raining, cold, and Hickman was much better athletically, but we found a way to win.”
Even though the two schools didn’t play each other in football again for another 15 years—the difference in the size of the schools put them in different divisions—it was the spirit of this frigid and monumental football game that fostered a rivalry for years to come. Current RBHS students think the introduction of a new public high school in 2013 was just so sudden that an authentic relationship between the three has yet to be established.
“As of now, I don’t necessarily think Battle is as big of a rival as Hickman,” RBHS senior football safety and tailback Eli Stout said. “But, that is just because rivalries take time to develop. Since they’re so new, it will be a couple of years before a real rivalry is developed.”
As those years go on, Conley is undoubtedly going to work on preparing his team to be even better than they were this year. In fact, he even sees having this past year as a distinct advantage for years to come; since the team was only freshmen through juniors, he’s not losing a class of players.
“This is the only time as a coach that I will be able to say that I return all of my players from the previous year,” Conyers said. “I expect great things in 2014.”
Even coaches from RBHS expect milestones from BHS teams next year. For the 2013-2014 year, RBHS coaches said the rate at which BHS teams matured and grew close impressed them. The Bruins’ girls basketball coach Jill Nagel said Battle student athletes exceeded her already high expectations.
“Even though this was Battle’s first year,” Nagel said, “the players were not new to Columbia. I feel this helped to expedite the process [of developing a team]. From what I have seen, all of their coaches have laid a strong foundation for each of their teams and taught the fundamentals of the sport.”
Nagel is eager to see how the influential and progressive coaches and players at BHS grow throughout the next few years. She has noticed that ideals that BHS coaches such as Conyers are promoting among their teams family, teamwork and respect–are helping to build an even better student body.
“The coaches understand [that] high school sports teach life lessons,” Nagel said. “Their programs only stand to become stronger.”
 By Sarah Kinney