COLUMBIA — Officer Kevin Keith kept a watchful eye over the boisterous crowd from his perch on the elevated walkway behind the stands that overlooked Robert M. LeMone Field.
A 20-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department, Keith has been the Hickman High School resource officer for 15 years. In that role, he serves as security at basketball, football and baseball games hosted by the school.
Wednesday night, however, Keith was assigned to the Hickman girls soccer game against Rock Bridge.
“Our games against Rock Bridge are always heated,” Hickman assistant coach Adam Taylor said Wednesday. “They always have a solid team, and it’s always a tough game to play.”
The Kewpies (8-4-1) overcame an early first-half deficit to defeat the Bruins 3-1 en route to their fifth consecutive victory.
“I’m not here for every soccer game,” Keith said Wednesday. “But when it’s a game against their crosstown rival, it’s a good idea for me to come.”
Keith understands the emotions that come along with rivalry games.
He was present on Jan. 22 when tempers boiled over after a basketball game between the schools. The Hickman student section stormed the court at Rock Bridge after the Kewpies won the game. The celebration on their rival’s home court sparked a shoving match.
“It was pretty chaotic,” Keith said. “I think the students got carried away because we hadn’t beaten them in 10 years.”
On Wednesday night, Keith joked with students and inquired about the score of the Hickman baseball game against Smith-Cotton that was taking place 100 yards from the soccer field.
Fans struggled to find seating in the stands on the east side of the field, which resembled a sea of Bruins green and Kewpies purple, but otherwise everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Students from both schools, many of whom competed against one another in other sports, chanted and shouted as they cheered for their team and jeered the rival.
Things only became physical on the field. Bodies tumbled, heads collided, elbows were thrown, and words were exchanged.
Taylor said the intense atmosphere brought out the best in the Hickman players.
“They played with heart from the beginning,” he said. “It took them a little while to get their brains involved, too, but they did.”
The Kewpies' next game is against Pembroke Hill (Kansas City) at 5 p.m. Friday in the first round of the Hickman Soccer Tournament.