Also written by Cody Powers, Austin Westray and Zack Miller
The Central-Centennial rivalry has been raging now for almost 44 years. Two fridays ago, February 6th, the two will meet again for the second time this regular basketball season. As usual tensions flare, pranks are pulled, and teams compete. Our investigative journalism staff looked more deeply into Champaign’s most intense high school rivalry and has included our favorite pieces of this long history.
“The first Central Centennial athletic competition was the 1971 Regional game” says Greg Walters, a game he played in as a junior. “The doors opened at 5, the game started at 6, but by 5:30 the gym was jam packed and the atmosphere was deafening.” Centennial was practically a brand new school and had nowhere near the athletic prowess Central had accumulated. “Administrators held ropes across the bleachers to restrain the students from getting onto the court.” says Walters. Centennial won that game and sparked the rivalry that has continued through both of our school’s history.
Pranks have also been a presence in the rivalry. Throughout the years school logos have been burned into the shared football field, and “paint has been splattered on each location.” says Walters. Brian Easter, Centennial Athletic Director told The Centinal “A lot of the pranks you’ll see at Central/Centennial games aren’t very funny. Most of it is just high school kids being high school kids.” Most recently Centennial and Central have had their share of streakers on respective fields and courts. “Max Marroon” and “The Blue Man” have been seen throughout the rivalry. One notable Central streaker was painted all over in red and black, with very revealing short shorts.
Central English teacher Elizabeth Dietz’s take on the pranks were as follows “Perhaps it is because I am a former band member, but disrupting a performance for the sake of a rivalry seems immature. Not to mention, as a student, I never appreciated someone disrespecting the hard work we put into our shows.” however she also noted that both schools have respectful students and that these insignificant pranks give a bad name to a “good natured rivalry”
Violence has also been seen at cross town rivalry games throughout the years. Greg Stock, a former Centennial AP, said at one game in 2002 after Central had defeated us off a buzzer beater a Centennial student punched the athlete with the game winner starting an all out brawl. Once the fight had left the gym it erupted outside of Central. “Fights were breaking out left and right. As soon as we stopped one fight another one broke out in another spot.” says Stock. Cops were called and University Ave. was blocked off for the duration of the night as approximately 25 squad cars entered the scene to break up the riot that had begun.
Several Centennial/Central teachers and administrators attended these very schools and have their own feelings towards the rivalry. “No matter what kind of season you were having, the main goal as a Centennial player was to beat Central. If you beat Central the season was a success,” says Andrew Woods, a social studies teacher here at Centennial. His brother John Woods is the athletic director at Central, and Centennial’s Mr. Woods says he and his brother always place a bet for every game.
If you’d like to read the full interviews with different members of the staffs both from Central and Centennial they are below.
Interview With Andrew Woods:
What are your thoughts on the Central-Centennial rivalry?
“Well, my dad was a teacher at Centennial, so I grew up with a Centennial background already. On top of that, All three of my brothers played basketball for Centennial, so when I came in as a freshman, it was three straight years of having a brother on the varsity basketball team here.
“No matter what kind of season you were having, the main goal for me as a Centennial player, was to beat Central. If you beat Central, the season felt like a success.”
Your brother is the AD over at Central, what are your thoughts on that?
“ We make bets, every time they play each other. Although I promise the bets don’t involve money.”
Interview With Brian Easter:
Your take on pranks? “A lot of the pranks you’ll see at Central/Centennial games aren’t very mature or funny.” “Most of it is just high school kids being high school kids.”
Has the rivalry intensified or changed at all? “No… I think each season and each group of kids that come in all have their differences. I wouldn’t say its necessarily changed all that much through the years though.”
How have the crowds been throughout the years? “The crowds have been massive. The first time Central played Centennial, the game started at 7:30, but the doors closed at 5:30.”
Interview With Ms. Dietz of Central
- What were your experiences with the rivalry while you were at Central?
When I was a student, the only experiences I had with the Central/Centennial rivalry were at band competitions, basketball games, and football games. Since I was involved with band and choir, the only time I really cared about being viewed as “better” than Centennial was during band competitions or musical season. As a student I did not care too much for sports. As a teacher, I care about my students. So when they play any team I focus more on the student(s) playing than the overall score. However, I know my students feel compelled to beat Centennial, so I do always feel a little more for them when they lose to Centennial. In reality though, a loss is a loss and a win is a win. I know how hard students athletes work, so I am a proud teacher whenever I see my students play:-)
- What are the extremes that you’ve seen students go to?
I really have not seen many extremes that students have gone to in order to emphasize the rivalry between the two schools. If you are focusing more on what is the most bizarre thing I have heard/seen students do in a classroom/at school… well… I got stories;-) But those stories are for teacher ears only;-)
- How did students behave when you were a student, compared to now?
The biggest differences in student behavior is the sense of entitlement and cell phone usage. The things I hear some students say to teachers, and the lack of ownership they take in their actions seems very contrasting to what it was like when I was in high school. Students were still disrespectful when I was in high school, and some definitely felt above authority. However, students back then would not have gotten away with some of the things they say to teachers now. Also, since technology has grown exponentially, cellphones are increasingly an issue. Though we had cellphones when I was in high school, it was not probably until my Junior year of college that texting became truly popular. Up until that point, my phone was used to simply make phone calls as needed. When I was in high school land lines were still the norm. As a result, I would spend hours talking on the phone, not texting.
- What kind of pranks did people pull when you were a student?
The only prank that students pulled in response to the Central/Centennial rivalry is the same prank you see today: a student all dressed in blue running across the field when the marching band performs the half-time show during the Central/Centennial game. I know quality students attend Centennial HS and these seemingly innocent or insignificant pranks cultivates more disrespect than a spirited, good-natured rivalry.
- Did any violence take place, like it does today?
I do not recall any violence that took place between the two schools. However, fights did occur at Central & Centennial as they do now. I am more aware of the violence now because I am a teacher and hear more about what goes on in the school as a whole. When you are a student, it is easy to get caught up in just your little circle and not notice others.
After being a student at Central, student teaching at Centennial, teaching at Central, and working closely with Centennial staff and faculty, you should know that both schools contain greatness and excellence. While each school thrives in various areas, each school is essential to this community. If we could work together more and perhaps push the rivalry aside, I wonder how big of a positive influence our students could make on our society.
Kara Downs: Central burnt their C into our field. TPing houses.
Administration told students if they got in fights, they’d be banned from other games. Without social media, things seemed to be more calm and fights were more spur of the moment and not as planned.