Friday night, Charlotte Catholic and rival Charlotte Country Day will play a high school football game for the 54th consecutive season.
Early in the series, the teams would meet at Myers Park High School on Saturday nights because neither schools home field was big enough for the crowd. Friday, theyll play at Charlotte Catholics home field on a night when legendary Charlotte Catholic football coach Jim Oddo will be honored. Oddo retired last season after leading the Cougars to the N.C. 4A state semifinals. Oddo coached at Catholic for five decades.
And as always, the winner of the game will get the John Cook Cup, named for Country Days legendary coach, who worked at his school for 26 years.
This will be my 25th one, current Country Day coach Bob Witman said. I remember in my first one, in 1990, they beat us and we were over there, to what is now Holy Trinity Middle School on Park Road, and beat them in 1991. It was the first time wed won in four or five years. That was pretty special.
Witman said its hard to pinpoint what has made this rivalry so strong and kept it going over the years, but said having two winning programs with great fan bases and great tradition doesnt hurt. And usually the games are close.
All-time, Country Day has won one more game than Catholic in the head-to-head series, and since Country Day won 51-18 in 2000, eight of the 13 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. And most of the games arent decided until the end.
Last season, for example, Catholic won the 28th Cook Cup after All-American Elijah Hood scored the game-winning touchdown with 2 minutes, 59 seconds to lift the Cougars to a 21-20 victory in front of a standing room crowd at John Cook Field at Country Day.
Country Day, a private school, was 6-5 last season. Catholic was 13-2 and nearly made the public school state championship in the second largest classification.
Its just an intense rivalry, Witman said. I will say this: our kids usually play their best against Catholic for whatever reason. I know my first year here and my second, wed come into the locker room and Id have to settle the kids down rather than give them a pep talk. They were crazed. I was like, Holy cow, this is neat. They get into it, how big it is. Catholic brings a great crowd and that makes it a big deal right there, and when you play over there, its a neat place to play.
First-year Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz also has an intimate relationship with the rivalry. He was an assisant under Oddo for 10 years.
I think what makes it special is the passion both schools have for football, he said. What coach Cook started over there, and what coach Witman has helped build and keep up, and what coach Oddo did over here, theyre both exceptional programs. Its the sport everybody rallies around and then theres the competitiveness of these games. No matter how good the teams are, these games are just so competitive. When you put two schools together with such rich traditions, youve got a great rivalry.
Brodowicz said it looks a little different to him this year, though, since hes the man in charge now.
Theres a little added pressure, he said. Theres already pressure at this job, just being the Charlotte Catholic football coach. Then theres the pressure of winning the Cook Cup. You want to bring the cup home and keep it here.
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