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Class reunions revive memories of cross-county battles

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By Nathan L. McBroom

A cross-town rivalry was rekindled on July 26 when two local high school classes held their 40-year reunions on the same night.

The 1968 graduating classes from Shelbyville High School and Shelby County High School did not intend to schedule their reunions on the same night.

Reunion organizers from both schools admitted that getting that many Rockets and Red Devils in close proximity is still a risky venture.

Thankfully, the reunions were held 5 miles apart and those who had too much to drink weren't allowed to drive.

While no pranks were pulled during the evening, the 1968 graduating classes both had some choice words for their former rival.

Joyce Watson-Lea said while there was a rivalry, there was really no competition.

"It was a huge rivalry. But we were the better school," she said. "We were bigger. We were the county."

Shelbyville, which had 88 students graduating in 1968, was roughly half the size of its cross-town rival.

Despite their smaller size, Shelbyville would always give SCHS a run for their money when the two schools faced off.

Jon Riggs, who played forward for SCHS's basketball squad, said the competition between the two schools was legendary.

"It was a hell-of-a-rivalry," he said. "Those were some great games."

Riggs said the rivalry caused two local officials to bet on basketball game between the two schools. The winner got to put the loser in a wheelbarrow and wheel him through town, he said.

During the regular season, the two schools never got to play each other. However during special invitation tournaments or at the district and regional finals the teams would square off.

In 1967, Shelbyville beat SCHS in the post-season and went on to the state tournament. But in 1968, SCHS beat the Red Devils in the district championship and went on to the state tournament.

Charles Matthews, who played guard for the Red Devils, said the rivalry got so heated, that the games had to be cancelled for several years.

"Fights and scuffles would break out during the game," he said. "It was intense."

Larry McCurdy said the Red Devils egged on the animosity by rolling out a red carpet in front of their players and leading the crowd in inflammatory chants.

"They did that just for meanness sake," he said.

Duanne Puckett, a former Shelbyville cheerleader, said the chants were all in good fun.

While basketball was the biggest rivalry, the schools were competitive at everything.

Brenda Duncan Lichtenfels, a Shelbyville grad, said the rivalry crossed political party lines and made having friends at the school near impossible.

"I had friends who went there," she said. "But we did not talk or associate with one another, before, during or after ball games."

Lichtenfels said SCHS was trying to cramp Shelbyville's style by having their reunion on the same night.

"Maybe we should challenge them to a brawl in downtown Shelbyville," she said.

Doug Aldridge, the 1968 SCHS class president, said it was Shelbyville who following after "the bigger, better SCHS."

"I reckon we ought to go over there and wreck their party," he said.

Lichtenfels, Aldridge and other grads said they are now able to look on rivalry with a smile - something they didn't think possible 40 years ago.

"Over time we have learned to speak to each other," Lichtenfels said.

In 2013 the district is expected to open a second public high school. At that time the Rockets will once again have a cross-town rival.