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An old rivalry renewed


Oxford and Lake Orion square off on the gridiron for the first time since 1983



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High school football coaches Chris Bell, below, and Bud Rowley promise their respective teams will be ready for the August 27 gridiron season opener. Bell, a former player for Lake Orion took the Dragons to the state finals in 2010. Rowley has led the Wildcats to 28 consecutive winning seasons. (click for larger version)
August 18, 2010 - "They (Lake Orion) got a big, physical, tough group of kids -- kids who don't like Oxford." -- Oxford football Coach Bud Rowley, November 2, 1983

Natural geographic rivals for years, the last time Oxford played Lake Orion in a real game of football was November 4, 1983. It was the final game of that season.

The upstart Wildcats downed Lake Orion, 34-6, using a powerful running game plan and dominating defense. That game was the end of an era for Oxford -- it was their last game playing in the North Oakland Athletic Association. The next year Oxford started competing in the Flint Metro League.

Ironically, Oxford's first game of the season this year is against the Dragons in the Oakland Athletic Association -- their first game playing outside of the FLM since 1983.

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(click for larger version)
In distant memory, Lake Orion and Oxford have played six games: the Dragons won two, there were three ties, "But we won the last one." Rowley said after that eventful night, 27 years ago.

And, on August 27 -- in the Dragons' lair -- Rowley and the Wildcats hope to pull out another upset. As before, Lake Orion is the odds-on favorite.

"The slate is clean," Rowley growled. "It doesn't matter what we did back them -- 1983 was a long time ago. It's twenty-ten. We're excited. They are excited. They still don't care for us and we still don't care for them."

Rowley likes the idea of renewing the Lake Orion rivalry.

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"We're three miles apart. Come on. I think we should have been playing them all along. This is great for the communities. It's fun. It's a good way to bring the two communities together. It's the talk of the town, and on Facebook and Twitter. People are already talking about it on the streets here and I am sure they are talking about it down there. I'm pumped. Let's tee it up!"

Rowley, while understanding the rivalry, respects what Lake Orion has accomplished on the gridiron under the leadership of Coach Chris Bell.

"Coach Bell has done nothing but great things at Lake Orion. The have outstanding athletes and a fine program."

The admiration is mutual.

"I expect a tough Oxford football team. Bud and his staff will do a great job getting his players ready to play," Bell said. "I have great respect for the Oxford program. I have known Bud for many years and when I was just starting out as a head coach, Bud was a mentor for me. We had several conversations about coaching our teams and I learned a lot from him. I also pay special attention to Oxford because my nephew Corey Bell plays for the Wildcats, so when they aren't playing us, I pull for them to win."

Bell is a Dragon at heart, having played for and graduating from Lake Orion High School. He has coached the team since 1997. He knows his community.

And, as folks in Oxford are talking about the game, Bell said, the people in Lake Orion are, too. "It is an exciting game because it brings back an old great rivalry. The community if very excited to see this game. Many remember how big this game used to be.

"This was Michigan/Ohio State. We currently have a great rivalry game with Clarkston, but Lake Orion/Oxford is bigger because of the history. The only thing that would make it better is to move it back to game 9."

Last year, the Dragons (6-1, league, 7-3 overal) finished second in the Oakland Athletic Association (OAA) Red Divsion, behind Clarkston (7-0 and 12-1 overall). In its last Flint Metro League season, Oxford finished 5-4.

Bell said "welcoming" Oxford back into the OAA isn't Lake Orion's concern.

"We're justing getting ready to play our opener. In a rivalry game, bragging rights are always fun to play for. You won't hear us say too much about the game before hand. We like to let our play speak for itself. We will be ready on August 27," Bell said."Playing in big games is nothing new for our program and kids. We expect a great football game and hope we can continue to play this game each year as a positive between both teams and communities."

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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