It’s back — the annual East-West River City football classic: Decatur vs. Austin, tonight at Ogle Stadium.
Football fans will banter over who will win up until tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff. Some at the stadium also may wonder how much longer the rivalry will be around, considering politicians have brought up the possibility of merging the schools.
“If it’s ever determined the city wants to go in that direction, we’ll have to do some serious studies to see what is best for Decatur city students as a whole,” Austin Principal Don Snow said. “One thing I do know is that we now have two quality schools that we can all be proud of.”
Local politicians repeatedly have been asked during this election season whether the schools should merge — and a new athletic facility built — to keep up with neighboring school districts that are building high schools.
Decatur High Principal Mike Ward, who was an assistant coach for the 1993 Decatur team that finished with an 11-1 record, sees positives and negatives in a possible merger.
“From an academic standpoint, you’ll be able to offer a larger variety of classes,” he said. “And from an athletic standpoint, the larger numbers you have to choose from, the more competitive you will be.
“But fewer athletes will have a chance to participate. A kid that may have been a pretty good player in the two schools may find himself on the bench with one school.”
Ashley McIntyre, principal of Oak Park Middle School, played center and linebacker at Decatur High for three seasons.
He was a sophomore on the 1993 team.
“The game is the kind of an event that really draws our community together,” he said.
McIntyre said part of the success of a merger depends on how the school system goes about it.
“You’ve got to involve the community,” he said. “Let them speak about what is important to them.”
Wally Terry, a 1970 Decatur High grad who grew up firing the Raiders’ cannon after touchdowns, on Thursday morning left a meeting of Shorty’s Boys, who played under legendary coach Shorty Ogle. Moments later, Terry spoke about the meeting and tonight’s game.
“We heard a wonderful talk by Austin coach Jeremy Perkins, which reaffirms the goodness of this city,” he said. “Shorty’s Boys gave him a plaque and want him to do well the rest of the season.”
Terry refused to take a position on a merger.
“It’s not whether you’re one, two or three schools,” he said. “It’s how you address living and working together as a community and the leadership we have at all levels.”
John Godwin, a 1979 Decatur High grad, played three years on the football team as a 150-pound linebacker.
“It’s a good rivalry,” he said. “There really hasn’t been a lot of negative things done off the field between the schools. It can be heated, but it’s done in a good, competitive manner.”
Godwin said he knows merger is an issue that will have to be addressed.
“I don’t know if there’s enough money to build two brand new high schools,” Godwin said. “It’s a long-term issue that the board of education will have to deal with.”
Sandra Lee Prather Smith, who graduated at Austin in 1969 with her twin sister, Cheryl Lou Prather Parker, said she became the “official” Austin Black Bear as a junior.
“Until then, different students wore the bear head,” Smith said. “I used the old head, but I made my uniforms out of black polyester.”
Smith said although the rivalry “is good and a lot of fun,” she believes consolidation is better academically.
Lindy Webb Smith, one of the daughters of another legendary Decatur High football coach, Earl Webb, graduated at Decatur in 1972 and was a cheerleader for two years.
“The rivalry is a big part of what makes us all enjoy that game so much,” Smith said. “As a teenager, you know the kids from the other school and they know you.
“As an adult, oftentimes you know parents whose children attend the other school. And we all have lots of special memories made at Ogle Stadium.”
Brittany Christians graduated at Austin in 2010. She cheers on her brother, Skyler Jenkins, a senior on the football team.
“I don’t think the schools are divisive to the city, and I don’t see any negatives,” she said. “I believe the rivalry is a healthy competition.”
Autumn Guyse, a 2009 Decatur High grad, took JROTC at Austin. She believes it would be good for the schools to merge.
“But I think the students would still have a lot of rivalry against each other because of where they live,” Guyse said.
Susan Brown, a 1982 Austin grad, believes there was more of a rivalry during her day.
“The kids changed, and there are computers and cellphones,” she said. “We were more concentrated on the school spirit and the games than they are today.”
Lori Potter, a 2003 Austin grad and self-proclaimed “big football fan,” doesn’t think the rivalry is divisive.
“I think a merger would make one school too large,” she said. “The kids are going to separate themselves anyway with their cliques.”
Marcellus Greene, a 1986 Decatur High grad, believes there should be only one school.
“They already play on the same field, and have for all these years,” he said. “I know the rivalry is a big thing.
“But we could take it out on Athens or one of the Birmingham teams.”
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