Mark Clark: Is Central vs. Smiths Station a rivalry in football?

Question: Does anyone remember the last time Smiths Station High had possession of the Backyard Brawl trophy or when Central High did not hold possession?

Answer: It was back in 2008 when a Mark Rose-coached Panthers football team defeated the Red Devils 27-24 to wrestle the trophy from Central’s grip.

Mark Rose has long left the program and now coaches the Russell County Warriors. The Panthers have had three coaches since Rose departed – Jason Dukes, Adam Fossett and Mike Glisson. Central has had four coaches since Smiths Station defeated Central – Ron Nelson, Woodrow Lowe, Jamey DuBose and Patrick Nix.

Nix will be coaching Central for the first time ever in the Backyard Brawl, but the other three Red Devils coaches have won a combined 11 times since the Panthers recorded a victory. 

Nelson won in 2009 (61-0 in his final Backyard Brawl), Lowe was the winning coach 2010-2013 (34-7, 59-14, 28-22 and 27-15), and DuBose won from 2014 through 2019 (49-28, 41-14, 51-14, 62-7. 49-0 and 44-0). Nix is expected to continue to hoist the Backyard Brawl trophy.

As you can see, Smiths Station has scored seven points in the last three years while Central has scored 155 points. During the 11-game winning streak the Red Devils are riding, they have outscored the Panthers 505-121. In the overall series, Central has scored 877 points to Smiths Station’s 268 points. Central leads the overall series with the Panthers 23-5.

Smiths Station’s five victories came in 1994, 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2008. The biggest margin of victory for Smiths Station is five points in the 12-7 win over Central 2006. Central’s largest margin of victory over Smiths Station came in 2009 in Nelson’s final game in the Backyard Brawl XVIII when the Red Devils won by 61 points in a 61-0 victory. The smallest margin of victory for Smiths Station was a single point in both 1994 and 1996 when the Panthers won by a pair of 7-6 scores. Central’s smallest margin of victory was five points in a 18-13 victory in 1993 in the se4cond game of the series when Wayne Trawick coached the Red Devils.

Having provided all these facts to you in order for you to make an intelligent determination to the next question I am about to ask.

Question: Is the Backyard Brawl, which is in its 29th year, really a rivalry anymore?

Answer: It is up to you to decide. If you ask me, I am of the opinion it is not a rivalry – though it should be.

Smiths Station High and Central High are only 3.8 miles apart. The two communities of Phenix City and Smiths Station – for the most part – share a border. The communities are much closer when you look at the people who live in both. The people in both communities are a combination of graduates from both schools. Many of them have kinship connections with the other community. Many from one community work in the other community. The people in these two communities shop a combination of stores in each community. They eat at restaurants in each community. The two communities compete for tax dollars from citizens of both these cities. The people of the two communities attend church together. In fact, the mayor of Smiths Station, F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, has been the pastor of Phenix City’s First Baptist Church for a while now. 

By the way, I am one of those people in the communities that has kinship connections in the other community. I am a proud citizen of Phenix City and a proud graduate of Central High who once lived in Smiths Station with my parents. My mother, brother and sister – and a niece – live in Smiths Station. 

My brother and sister are proud graduates of Smiths Station High. I have a wife and two daughters who are graduates of Central High. One of my daughters teaches third grade at Lakewood Elementary School in Phenix City and my other daughter teaches three-year-old pre-kindergarten children at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Smiths Station. 

You want to talk about intertwined lives in the two communities, I am your guy.

Yes, the Central vs. Smiths Station games in any sport should be rivalries. For the most part, they are. But when it comes to football, there is no rivalry until Smiths Station decides to make it one again. When will that be? It will not happen until Smiths Station understands the definition of a rivalry. 

A sports rivalry is defined as an intense competition between athletic teams or athletes. The intensity of the rivalry is on a continuum, varying from friendly competition on one end to fierce competition on the other end. Geographic proximity or frequent meetings in important games can lead to rivalries. A rivalry may be individual or team based. Often a rivalry starts when people want the same reward – a trophy and bragging rights for a year as an example. And, their talents are just about equal.

While the trophy and bragging rights for a year are possible for Smiths Station to obtain, it is the last part of the definition of a sports rivalry where the Panthers fall short – talents that are just about equal. It will take more than a single victory by the Panthers to make the Central vs. Smiths Station football game a rivalry again, a lot more than a single victory. But as Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

For Smiths Station the opportunity to take that first step of the journey is tomorrow night. And at this time, it appears that Central already has a 500-mile lead.

 Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.