When it comes to rivalries, there are two philosophies among coaches.
Some play it up.
These coaches have been known to reference a rival every day at practice, to circle the date of the game on their calendar, to purposely mispronounce their rival’s name, or whatever else they can think of to get under the opposition’s skin.
Others play it down, the concept being that they don’t want to over-emphasize any one game.
Fruitport head football coach Greg Vargas is of the latter variety.
“Truth be told, I don’t really care about Spring Lake,” Vargas said. “I always played them when I was in school, and all that stuff, but they are Week 3. They are the next team on the schedule; it happens to be Spring Lake. I want our mentality to be that whoever happens to be there, we don’t need extra stuff to get up, we don’t need to find some secret motivation to get after a team. (What’s important is) that we go out and perform consistently. That’s what we’re trying to get our kids to do.
See today's print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune for an in-depth look at the keys to the game for both Spring Lake and Fruitport
Yet Vargas recognizes that Fruitport-Spring Lake is no ordinary game.
“But I will say, there is a lot of hype,” Vargas said. “And it involves not just the football kids, it’s the community, it’s the student body. A lot of our kids live right on that border, and there’s a lot of pride in the community of Fruitport. You want to win that (game) bad so that for the next year you can walk around with your chin held a little bit higher, with that tucked in your back pocket, knowing you got the big W. Football matters a lot. I don’t know of another sport – especially in our community — that comes with that pride factor that football has. It’s a big deal. It’s one that we’re going to go out and get after (it), and try to walk away with that stupid paddle,” he said chuckling.
The Paddle is the trophy given to the winner of the game. It is quite literally a paddle, like one you’d use in a canoe, with half of it adorning the Fruitport colors and logo, the other half Spring Lake’s.
Last year was the first for The Paddle, which was coupled with an official name for the game – “The Bayou Battle.”
Fruitport won the inaugural “Battle,” 15-6.
“Because we have a long-standing rivalry it’s kind of cool to mimic some of the big-time rivalries in college football, and have a traveling trophy,” Vargas said. “It was super cool to go after the game and snatch that thing up, and hold it and yell. The kids got excited, and the kids at school got excited as they saw it (when) walking through the halls. It definitely was a great addition to this week.”
The schools also began raising money for charity last year, which continued this week. Fruitport’s donations will be going to Kid’s Food Basket, which has branches in Muskegon and Grand Rapids.
“That’s (also) a great addition to this game,” Vargas said of raising money for charity during rivalry week. “I think that anytime your program can promote those community pride types of things, is just a great addition to the game. When it comes down to it, that’s what this silly thing of high school sports is all about. It’s about working hard for your community, going out there and laying it all on the line, and walking away a winner. These rivalry games are special.”
The Lakers are playing for the Spring Lake Presbyterian food pantry.
An active partner in the efforts is Orchard Market in Spring Lake. The grocery store is selling small footballs to help raise money for the cause. Spring Lake football players have gotten into the spirit by bagging groceries at Orchard Market.
Coach Jerry Rabideau said it’s been neat to see his team get involved in the process of raising money for the cause.
“Hats off to the Spring Lake Rotary and Orchard Markets,” he said. “They’ve really bought into promoting this game, bringing the players in to promote the game by bagging groceries. That really does raise the level of awareness for the game.
“Of course, everyone born and raised her realizes Fruitport and Spring Lake is the biggest rivalry game for us.”
The Spring Lake Interact Club — an extension of the Spring Lake Rotary — has printed up T-shirts commemorating Friday’s Bayou Battle. Those shirts have been sold at Spring Lake High School and will also be on sale tonight at Orchard Market.
Leftover shirts will be sold at Friday’s game.
Rabideau said all the hoopla surrounding the game, including the traveling trophy, is great. But to him, nothing beats the bragging rights that accompany a win.
“You get to bring home the hardware, and that’s a monumental moment, but I still thing the bragging rights between these two communities as these kids grow into adults, those are more tangible than the oar,” Rabideau said. “Those last a lifetime.”