COLUMBIA — For the Hickman football team, playing a district game for a chance to advance in the state playoffs is special. But playing that game against Jefferson City holds extra meaning.
Just ask Kewpies’ defensive coordinator Arnel Monroe, one of three current Hickman coaches who have returned to their alma mater. In his 12th year as a coach for the Kewpies, Monroe has experienced enough games against the Jays to have a firm grasp on the tradition between the two schools.
Jefferson City (7-2, 1-1) vs. No. 4 Hickman (7-2, 2-0) WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: Hickman Field RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM SERIES: Hickman leads 51-47-4
His first memory of the rivalry came before he even put on a Hickman jersey.
“For me, it goes back to when my dad and I used to go to the Hickman games and the Jeff City games,” Monroe said. “I can remember going to Jeff City Stadium, now Adkins Stadium, and it being so many people that the Jeff City police were on horseback. They had Doberman Pinschers to control the crowd.”
Monroe was a wide receiver during his playing days with the Kewpies. He said his teammates always knew when the Jefferson City game was approaching. They didn’t need a schedule to remind them of “Jay Week.”
“I think that atmosphere is exemplary high school football,” Monroe said. “It was a different intensity in practice. It was a more physical week, a ‘never say die’ week.”
During his two seasons as a varsity letterman, Monroe and the Kewpies were 3-0 against the Jays. In 1983, Hickman shut out Jefferson City twice, something that has not been duplicated. The next year, current Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey suffered a torn ACL during the season, but that didn’t stop him from kicking the winning field goal in double overtime for the Kewpies.
“It goes back to those sorts of stories and traditions that kids grow up with, from fathers to sons,” Monroe said. “Those are some of the stories you’ll hear at the barbershop this week.”
Nobody can say exactly why the rivalry, which began in 1911, became so big. Monroe suggested it dates back to when former Hickman coach Tom Travis played for former Jefferson City coach Pete Adkins at Centralia High School. The two eventually coached against each other at the rival schools for 20 years.
“It was played with a lot of intensity with some great coaches, some great athletes and two communities that believe in football,” Monroe said. “I think that’s part of the reason it took off.”
There’s more to it than what transpires on the playing field. Monroe said despite the hostility that sometimes arises between the two teams, he has gotten along well with former Jefferson City players after high school.
“A lot of those guys that I played against are my friends and a couple of them were even my fraternity brothers,” Monroe said.
Hickman head coach Jason Wright did not grow up in the Columbia area, but he said it didn’t take him long to catch on to the meaning of this game. He just wants his players to be focused and to not look past the Jays.
“It is what it is. It’s a rivalry game,” Wright said. “I think that both programs have mutual respect for each other. When it’s over, it’s over. But for that one particular game, it’s something else.”
Monroe said looking back can help players look ahead.
“As a coach, getting ready for it and getting the kids ready for it, you try to talk about some of the tradition, but not too much,” Monroe said. “You try to talk about adding their name to that tradition, building their stories for 20 years down the road when their sons play.”
It means an exciting atmosphere for Friday night’s game. The bleachers on the north side of Hickman Field will contain a sea of purple and yellow, and the visitor’s bleachers will be filled with fans decked in red and white.
“That whole side on Friday night and on around will be packed with standing room only,” Wright said, pointing his arm in the direction of the visitor’s section and moving his arm from one side to the other.
The outcome will help decide the Class 6, District 6 title, but the championship is only part of the game’s importance.
“If you ask any guy that graduated from Jeff City that played football, and you ask any guy that graduated from Hickman, they’ll tell you they don’t care what the record is,” Monroe said. “It’s what you take to your grave, whether you won or whether you lost. That’s the magnitude of the game and it’s always going to be that way.”