OPINION: Biggs-East Nicolaus is a rivalry not forgotten
A hot day on the practice field got a bit hotter when I unknowingly touched on a sacred subject with former Biggs High football coach Mike Pena a of couple years ago.
"This is a pretty good rivalry," I said.
Pena turned and faced me. He looked me right in the eye and said, "Bryan, this is a great rivalry."
I didn't mean to strike a nerve.
But Mike was right, it was a great rivalry.
I realized the fire I sparked had been distinguished for some time.
You see, then Biggs had been a bottom feeder in the Mid-Valley League for nearly seven seasons, while East Nicolaus had continued to thrive.
While that didn't sit well in Wolverine country, Pena's statement was one of preservation rather than vitriol.
He was the torch bearer of something special.
Geoff Wahl, who coached at East Nicolaus for 34 seasons, and Del Kalbach, who headed Biggs for 27 seasons, see-sawed league championships for years. Pena took over for Kalbach in 1989.
"We were the two best teams in league for a long time and it always came down to one of us," Wahl said. "That's how it happened."
Since 1979, Biggs and East Nicolaus have earned the rights to play in 23 Northern Section championship games combined. In 1997, they both won a title in different divisions.
While there was a little gamesmanship here and there, the rivalry was mainly friendly.
But if you talk to anyone in "Got Milk," California, they'll tell you which game on the schedule meant, and still, in some way, means the most.
"Oh yeah, definitely," said Marysville High football coach and Biggs alum Cullen Meyer, who played for Pena. "Growing up there, you heard stories of Wahl and Del screaming at each other from the sidelines.
"If you grew up in Biggs, you knew they were your rival."
The stories go on and on, and with Biggs' rich tradition, it's easy to hear one.
Ed Miller has been walking with the chain gang at Wolverines games for 50 years — and he's still doing it, just for fun.
Mel McLaughlin has been the Wolverines game night announcer since 1954.
And the apples don't fall too far from the tree in East Nicolaus, either.
You can usually find a couple of second, and maybe third-generation players each season.
Over the past few years, the rivalry has slowly faded. Biggs and East Nicolaus are in different leagues and different divisions.
However, after the Wolverines opened the season with two wins, there was some excitement coming into Friday night's clash between the old foes.
As always, "Hell's Bells" blasted from the speakers during the introductions at Del Kalbach Stadium, McLaughlin's voice echoed out onto the field and "Big Red" brought plenty of company for the game.
Making it even better — John Dolenga, coach of East Nicolaus, played for Wahl. Conversely, Ron Carr, coach of Biggs, played for Kalbach.
The score was not rivalry-like: 32-6, East Nicolaus. The Spartans now hold an eight-game winning streak over Biggs.
But as Miller said walking off the field, "maybe we'll get 'em next year."