Battle Of Rogers Avenue Still A Must See After 50-Plus Years

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) - Athletes and coaches come and go. Talent flows up and down with each graduating class. Those things will happen for high school football teams but Northside vs Southside has lost nothing in the past 52 years.

The two schools from Fort Smith first met in 1965, right in the middle of the civil rights movement. Northside was integrated. Southside was not. That alone turned the heat up on a brand new rivalry.

"Southside was the Rebels. They had the Rebel flags. Northside was integrated," former Northside running back and assistant coach Billy Joe Releford said. "Really motivated the kids on this side of town to go out and really play hard beyond playing to just win the game but make a personal statement."

Jim Rowland was an assistant coach at Northside during the late 1960s before he crossed Rogers Ave. to be the Southside head coach and eventually the school district's athletic director.

"When it first started out, it was kind of hectic in that we really watch for vandalism and things like that," Rowland said.

The rivalry moved past the racial tension and then Northside vs Southside became the premiere game in the state of Arkansas.

"You were friends for the first six years and after that you never really had a whole lot to say to each other," Northside graduate and current Grizzlies head coach said.

"You’re not supposed to but you think about it," 1995 Northside graduate Matt Blaylock said. "You’re checking scores seeing what they’re doing. You know what’s going on across town."

Barry Lunney Sr. is one of many players/coaches to have been apart of the rivalry on both sides. Lunney was a quarterback at Northside and then led Southside to four state championships as head coach.

"Being able to play in that game and then also to coach in it, it was something everyone in the whole community looked forward to all year long," Lunney said.

A little less than a decade after Lunney graduated from Northside, Mike Falleur put on the Grizzlies uniform. Then, after more than 20 years of coaching, Falleur got the chance to come home and coach his alma mater.

"Always been one of my dreams and goals early in life to come back when I got into coaching and to be able to coach here has been unbelievable," Falleur said.

Northside controlled the rivalry for much of the first four decades, winning 27 of the first 43 meetings but in the mid-2000s, things changed. That happens to be the same time when Jeff Williams was named the Mavericks (then the Rebels) head coach.

"I was fortunate to coach in some state championship games, it’s bigger than that," Williams said of the rivalry. "Obviously everybody’s goal is to win a state championship but the atmosphere is unbelievable."

As is the case in every rivalry, big players will emerge. Both Northside and Southside has had their fair share of impact players. But other times, it's a relative unknown that makes a difference and puts their name in the record books.

"I remember Clay Tyler coming out here and going 16-for-16 in 2014, best game the guy’s ever played or ever will play," Williams said of his former quarterback. "Those guys become heroes in your school forever. In your football program forever and that’s what it’s all about."