By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
Students at Pymatuning Valley have family members at Grand Valley. People who live in Orwell work in Andover. People in both towns have friends on the other side of the line.
The two school districts are similar in size and border each other. An athlete who grows up playing in one town might have teammates from the other. Both compete in the Northeastern Athletic Conference and they can often be found supporting one another.
That is, until they meet in the athletic arena. Then, it’s all bets are off.
“It’s the whole rivalry thing,” PV coach Neal Croston said. “It doesn’t get any better. The schools are right beside each other. The kids grow up playing with and against each other. They interact. They play each other in every sport. It builds up.
“Football sets the tone for who’s going to be the more physical.”
The Mustangs and Lakers renewed their rivalry on the gridiron Friday night at Laker Stadium.
In recent years, Grand Valley has had other teams get the better of it. Pymatuning Valley has faced opponents it desperately wanted to beat. But no team on either’s schedule is as important to beat as its South County cousin.
“I tell these guys that Ledgemont may have been the team that kept us from our goal, but it’s this team they have to get ready for,” Grand Valley coach John Glavickas said. “It starts in junior high. We teach the kids that we train to beat these guys.”
“It’s built in to them,” Croston said. “Many of (the players’) fathers, uncles and cousins played in this game. They tell (the players) the history. The parents do that enough for us that we don’t have to.
“It’s a great motivational tool. They all have a story.”
Much of what fuels the rivalry might just be those parents.
“They know their dads beat (Grand Valley) or laid it on the line,” Croston said. “They don’t want to be the son that didn’t give 100 percent. Everyone wins and loses, but the biggest thing is they gave 100 percent for four quarters.
“The thing we always tell the kids is this is a hard-hitting game. They don’t want to be the team that, when their watching film on Saturday, didn’t hit the hardest. That’s the one thing you can control — blocking, hitting and tackling.”
Beating one another matters to the point Glavickas put in a special call to have GV alum Steve Smith address his team before the contest.
“It’s a big night tonight,” Smith, a former Mustang star, said. “I don’t think I should have to say much to motivate you when Grand Valley is playing Pymatuning Valley. If I do, you shouldn’t be playing. When I played, we beat PV, 61-0. We kicked their asses from beginning to end. That’s the game I still remember.
“I live 170 miles away and every Saturday, I read the Star Beacon online. I look for two stories. First and foremost, I check to see if Grand Valley won and I look to see if Pymatuning Valley lost. Tonight, they lose.
“Many of you have friends and family who go to PV,” Smith continued. “Tonight, you don’t. Tonight, you don’t. You win this one. I hope it’s 61-0.”
Glavickas drove the point home just before he sent the Mustangs back out to the field.
“If I have to say something tonight to get you pumped up, you don’t deserve to wear the blue and white. Tonight, they’re your enemies, not your friends and families.
“Keep driving them into the ground until they don’t want to get up. That’s what Grand Valley football is all about.”
Croston was much more to the point in his address to the Lakers.
“I’ve got all the plays here,” he said, holding up his play-calling chart. “But they don’t mean crap if we don’t go out there and hit. This is our game! Go out there and hit!”
Though the Mustangs and Lakers may be enemies when they strap on the helmets and take to the field, there are certain people who are exempt from the status.
Pymatuning Valley’s Jason “Double J” Johnson, the Lakers’ good-will ambassador and all-around good guy, is free to cross into enemy territory at most any time.
Johnson made his way past midfield to greet the GV coaching staff and was met with a round of smiles, handshakes and pleasantries.
Almost to excuse the behavior of fraternizing with the enemy, Glavickas related just how long he’d known Johnson.
“I coached track years ago and we had this really good hurdler, Stacy Kirby,” Glavickas said. “We didn’t have an all-weather track back then, so we came over here to practice. ‘Double’ was right there with us every time we were here. I think he was her biggest fan.”
And that’s what makes the South County rivalry so much different from the others.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon replica edition.