COLUMBIA — Rivals aren’t normally friends.
You can count on fans at the Missouri-Kansas men's basketball games to taunt each other and the players often times in the most vile ways. But Rock Bridge and Hickman baseball coaches and players said their rivalry is not hostile but friendly.
Hickman (5-3) vs. Rock Bridge (11-1)
WHEN: 5 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
For Hickman baseball coach Terry Whitney, rival Rock Bridge is not only his former team, but also his upbringing. He was head coach for the Bruins from 1998-2006, but he also graduated from the high school in 1978.
Now, as head coach for the Kewpies, he faces the Bruins for the first time.
“It’s like playing your brother,” Whitney said. “When you play your brother, you want to beat your brother, but it’s not cutthroat.”
After taking a few years away from baseball, Whitney became the assistant coach for the Kewpies. Whitney knew Bobby Chick, the new Hickman head coach last year. Chick needed some help, so Whitney found himself as an assistant coach for the Kewpies.
But the people involved didn’t change much during his hiatus from baseball. Rock Bridge head coach Justin Towe is Whitney’s former assistant coach. Ron Widbin is Whitney’s former pitching coach. Even Bruins coaches Jeff Bazat and Tim Ritter both played for Whitney during his tenure at Rock Bridge.
“They’re well coached,” Whitney said. “They’re good in fundamentals, as I’m hoping we are. I know they hit the ball well and throw the ball really well.”
Being Whitney’s former assistant, Towe credits Whitney for some of his own success. He said he learned from Whitney’s exceptional organizational and managerial skills.
“Just because you played doesn’t mean that you can coach, so I learned a lot about how to manage a game and how to make moves and think about moves all the time,” Towe said.
Aside from the coaches, the players know each other well, too. They grew up playing together, in many cases in the Daniel Boone Little League. For summer league, they often find themselves on the same teams.
Even Hickman senior Connor Shaw formerly played for Rock Bridge.
“In high school, it’s just the same,” Hickman senior Garrison Coats said. “We just go out there and have fun.”
That doesn’t mean these teams don’t want to win. Whitney recalled a time when Rock Bridge was down against Hickman, only to come back with a grand slam. Towe remembered in 2005, the last year Hickman won a state championship, when the Bruins played tough and lost a close game.
They both mentioned how competitive these teams play against one another.
“Anytime these two teams play, records mean nothing,” Towe said. “You might as well throw out records and everything else, because it’s a game that nobody wants to lose.
“It’s just more of a pride thing than a rivalry.”