Friday Night the Elkhart Central High School Blue Blazers won the final rivalry game against Elkhart Memorial for the coveted Mangy Lion trophy.
The stadium at Elkhart Central High School was packed with spectators for the final game between the city’s rival football teams. Next year the high schools will merge.
For those who remember, the merger is really going back to the way things were nearly 50 years ago.
“After 48 years of being Elkhart Memorial, as we move back to being Elkhart,” Memorial High School Assistant Athletic Director Phyllis Tubbs recalled. “You know, I was at Elkhart High School when we made the split and I’ve been at Memorial since we opened and so, for me, it’s probably, it’s not just this football game but it’s the closing of a tradition at Memorial.”
Trina and Reggie Harris are a house divided. He graduated from Central. She graduated from Memorial. They were at the game on Friday, their first time coming to the rivalry game.
“It’s a little nostalgic, really,” Trina Harris said. “Because my parents went to the old high school, when it was just one high school here. And my brothers actually went to Central, and I went to Memorial. So, you know, a little nostalgic. Hopefully it’s a good thing, that we’re merging but that’s to come, we’ll see.”
Reggie Harris said he’s looking forward to how the combined teams will do in the future.
“But I do think that this will make Elkhart more competitive” Harris said. “Competing with Penn and some of the other schools. But unfortunately that means less people will get to play. I think that’s the downside to the whole thing.”
Memorial Athletic Director Jacquie Rost said there actually won’t be that many students left out.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity we’re going to have to strive for greatness in athletics. Both Memorial and Central have a lot of programs that aren’t full. We’re cancelling Freshman seasons and not filling JV teams.”
Central Assistant Band Director Dan Burton said bringing together the teams will really rally the supporters. “With the community, there’s been such a fun rivalry every year, so that’s been exciting. But I think it’ll be good when we have both teams together and we have both fan bases really supporting Elkhart. I think that’ll be really super exciting.”
But not everyone has been behind the merger. Assistant Athletic Director Phyllis Tubbs said it was like that when they split the schools too.
“When we were in the process of splitting, Every...well not everybody but there was a great segment that, they didn’t wanna split and, you know, it really divided the community.”
Tubbs says it took a generation--Memorial and Central graduates sending their kids to Memorial and Central--before the town really got behind the split.
She said the key, this time, is to focus on the change in academics. “I think the community of Elkhart will understand that what we’re doing is really academics to prepare our students because the way the new academic set up with the pathways and hubs, our students are going to leave high school far better prepared.”
As for sports, the Mangy Lion rivalry game is really just the first of many lasts as the schools get closer to merging. “This is the first of the lasts, rivalry games,” Memorial A-D Jacquie Rost said. “Every sport will have a last, it’s just the first one, kicks off the year with football. This is a special game. You can see from the crowd.”
The crowd was loud and proud at Rice Field as the Blazers faced the Chargers for the last time.
The game was close in the beginning, with Central up by just one touchdown at the half. The Chargers couldn’t make that up. They put seven points on the board in the second half. But Central put up 20. Final score, 41 to 21.
Central Coach Josh Shattuck told his team he’d been protecting them from the pressure of history all week but, told them they’d done well. “Imma tell you something right now, you just made everyone who has wore that jersey as proud as you could freaking imagine.”
The Mangy Lion will stay with Elkhart Central. And the new team, merged as one, will carry its name forward. Next year the teams will take the field on the same side as the Elkhart High School Lions.