Belfry vs. Central has a (championship) ring to it
BY MIKE FIELDS
BOWLING GREEN — When Belfry Coach Philip Haywood and Louisville Central Coach Ty Scroggins met at midfield before Saturday night’s Russell Athletic/KHSAA Class 3A finals, they shook hands, exchanged warm smiles, and neither of them said, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
On the contrary, this is why they and their players pour their hearts and souls into football.
There are more traditional high school rivalries in Kentucky, but none of them can match the championship cachet that comes with Belfry-Central.
“A lot of other rivalries, like St. X-Trinity or Male-Manual, they play every year,” Scroggins said earlier this week. “But the only way we play this rivalry game is if both programs get to the state finals. We get to play for a trophy; we get to play for a ring, and that makes it extra special.”
Over the last 10 years, Belfry vs. Central has almost become a first-weekend-in-December annual event in WKU’s L.T. Smith Stadium.
Belfry won Saturday night’s sixth renewal, dominating the Yellowjackets 52-31 for their fourth title in a row and sixth since 2003. It was the Pirates’ second victory over Central in the finals. They also beat the Jackets 14-7 in 2014.
Central KO’d Belfry the previous four times, prevailing 27-17 in 2007, 46-7 in 2010, 15-14 in 2011 and 12-6 in overtime in 2012. (The Jackets also won a 3A title in 2008.)
“We’ve certainly had some great battles the last 10 years,” said Haywood, who has a state-record 416 wins and six state titles. “Some real classic games. It’s developed into a pretty healthy rivalry.”
“It’s not one of those ‘hate’ rivalries. It’s a rivalry everybody loves to see. It’s two programs that 10 years ago started something special.”
The Belfry-Central football rivalry is a shining example of people from different backgrounds and cultures competing without rancor.
Belfry is deep in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, near the West Virginia border. “We’re about as far out in the state as you can get,” Haywood said.
Central is in Louisville’s inner city. Scroggins admitted he never knew where Belfry was before the Jackets played the Pirates in the 2007 finals.
Their city-mountain, urban-rural coupling is reminiscent of the hoops war waged between Louisville Ballard and Clay County in the late 1980s. Bobby Keith’s Clay County team, led by star Richie Farmer, beat the Bruins in the 1987 Sweet Sixteen finals in overtime, and again in double-overtime in the Louisville Invitational Tournament the next season. Scotty Davenport’s Ballard team, led by star Allan Houston, beat the Tigers in the 1988 state championship game despite Farmer’s 51 points.
I saw Davenport at Bobby Keith’s funeral a couple months ago, and he recalled the special nature of that Ballard-Clay County rivalry, and how it epitomized sportsmanship and respect among kids from such different backgrounds.
That’s what the Belfry-Central rivalry represents, too.
“Ten years ago I found out where Belfry was,” Scroggins said, “and I can tell you the people that live in Belfry are wonderful people. I’ve got a lot of friends from there on Facebook, and during the season they’ll text me or email me congratulations on certain wins, and say they hope we get to play each other in the state (finals).”
After Belfry held on to beat Central Saturday night (after a wild fourth quarter that featured six touchdowns in the last 6:30), Haywood and Scroggins met again at midfield, hugged each other and whispered into each other’s ear for a few minutes.
Were they telling each other “same time next year?”
“No, nothing like that,” Haywood said. “I basically told him how great it was for us to play each other, and the amount of respect we have for them.
“It was more about the brotherhood of coaching, and how much we’ve enjoyed competing against each other over the years. It was a good moment.”
And it’s a great rivalry.
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