Coaches, too, feel pressure to win the Bell

After Mike Newsome accepted the head football coaching position at Kannapolis A.L. Brown High in May, the first congratulatory phone call he received was from an alumnus who graduated 35 years ago.

It was significant that the caller, Bob Trott, was an assistant football coach at the University of Richmond. But the final words of his voicemail may have been more meaningful: "Go Wonders. Beat Concord!"

That was the first time Newsome realized how important the annual rivalry game - known as The Bell Game - is to the Kannapolis and Concord communities.

On Friday, Newsome will get his first taste of the 81-year-old experience as the Wonders host the Spiders in the state's longest continuous high school football rivalry.

He will try not to allow himself or his players be distracted by the weeklong hoopla generated by the school and the community.

Concord's Glen Padgett, a Bell Game head coach for the first time just two years ago, knows what Newsome is going through. They agree their teams must approach the game in a businesslike manner, treating it like any other game.

That may be difficult. The two teams have been at the top of the South Piedmont 3A standings all season, and the outcome of Friday's game could decide the conference championship.

Bragging rights are important, too. Since 1931, Concord has won 39 of the games to Kannapolis' 37. There have been four ties.

(The Wonders have won two of the three state playoff games in which they have faced each other, but those games aren't counted as part of the Bell series.)

When Padgett took over the Spiders program in 2009, he had the advantage of having been a Concord assistant coach and athletic director during the late '80s and all through the '90s. He was very familiar with the week's worth of events each school held, such as the profuse decorations that transform the campuses and the public hanging of each other's mascot in effigy.

"We try to get the players to appreciate the magnitude of a game like this," Padgett said. "There are kids that will play their entire high school and college careers and will never play in an environment like this, where two communities come out for 48 minutes and get behind their high school and (town)."

Padgett remembers a strange conversation he had with a fan during the week of the 2009 Bell Game, his first as a head coach. His Spiders were 4-6 overall but were on a four-game winning streak. Still, the Wonders, at 9-1, were heavy favorites after blowing out numerous opponents.

"Somebody came up to me and said, 'Are you going to try to keep them under 50 (points)?' " Padgett said.

The Spiders pulled the upset at Kannapolis' Memorial Stadium, winning 13-10.

Newsome is no stranger to big games, having been head coach for nine years at Butler, which has a pretty fierce rivalry with Independence when they were both competing for state championships. Some of those games were played at Charlotte's Memorial Stadium.

"We played ... several times in front of 15,000 or 18,000 people," he said. "... That game has its own mystique, those two teams fighting. A lot of people just wanted to see two good football teams and a good football game. This here, with (the Bell Game) being part of the community, a lot of people are invested in it."

This year's game will not be the first time Padgett and Newsome have gone head to head. Their teams met several times when Newsome was at Butler and Padgett coached at North Mecklenburg.

"People may not understand we (coaches) are kind of like a fraternity," said Newsome. "We're in it for the same reasons. The good coaches are in it for the kids and the communities. I'm just glad he and I have such a good relationship. We can go out shake hands before game, battle like warriors during the game and shake hands after it."