After 80 years, Althoff-West football rivalry comes to an end

News-DemocratAugust 31, 2013 

On an October night during his senior year in 1991, Althoff High all-state lineman Jim Stiebel pulled his Camaro into the McDonald's parking lot on West Main in Belleville and went inside to eat.

"I came out and my license plates -- front and back -- were (gone)," said Stiebel, who quickly realized Althoff's football opponent that week was rival Belleville West. "I found out they did it, and all that did was fire up me as well as everybody else. They definitely had way more talent than we did.

"That kind of fueled my fire and gave me added incentive and bonus to take it out on them, which we did."

A fired-up Stiebel got his teammates to wear "war paint" on their faces. Not only did he have at least 15 tackles that night, he hit everything in sight and blocked a punt that led to the winning touchdown in Althoff's 18-15 victory.

"You couldn't just beat West," Stiebel explained. "You had to beat them and not give up points or you were going to take heat from the alumni."

Althoff had shut out the Maroons in the five previous years before West reached the end zone in 1991.

That marked another colorful chapter in a long-running football rivalry dating back to 1933 when the schools were known as Belleville Township High School and Cathedral. That rivalry will come to an end Friday night when Belleville West and Althoff meet on a football field for the final time.

Playoff atmosphere

"Our biggest rival was Althoff for sure, no question about it," said former Belleville West quarterback Joe Young, whose team beat Althoff 7-0 in the 1976 season opener on the way to an 11-1 season and spot in the state semifinals. "You knew everybody and it was bragging rights. These were all your friends that you grew up with or you hung out with. It was like a playoff atmosphere because you had the whole town out there."

Young recalled a hit by West all-state linebacker Kirk Sonnenberg near the 1-yard line, jarring the ball loose from Althoff back Gary Turner and preserving the shutout.

"If you got beat by them, you'd have to hear it for the rest of the season," Sonnenberg said. "Everybody was more intense, more focused on the game."

"I would almost compare the Althoff game to a playoff game because you wanted to win so bad and the stadium was full," said Young, now a photojournalist with KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis. "It was just a great atmosphere."

Always a challenge

Former Althoff coach Glenn Schott came to Belleville from southern Missouri. When he joined the Cathedral coaching staff in 1962, Schott walked onto the Township Stadium turf for the first time and promptly was hit by carrots being thrown by the Belleville Township Maroons' fans.

Althoff's "unofficial mascot" was "Crusader Rabbit," one of the first cartoon characters on television. Because the Althoff sideline would occasionally feature girls dressed as bunnies, West fans used the nickname "bunnies" for many years.

"If that thing had hit me in the head it probably would have knocked me out," Schott joked about the fairly large carrots being lobbed in his direction. "They had a heck of a team that year and they beat Cathedral 20-0, but we probably shouldn't have been on the field with them. That was a heck of a football team and they had Gary Kombrink at quarterback.

"I would have liked to have seen that team and our 1990 team play, because those were two of the best teams on each side."

Schott enjoyed the good-natured rivalry, which he always felt brought out the best in both teams.

"Size-wise and everything else, Althoff was always the underdog, but I never minded that," he said. "I always looked at it as a challenge."

Family tradition

Former Belleville West quarterback Gary Mauser's father, Bill (1944-46), and brother, Bill Jr. (1967-68), both played starring roles for the Maroons.

"The first game I ever saw was in 1963," said Gary Mauser, who went on to become a successful coach at Dupo. "Belleville played Cathedral and we sat in the end zone. For a 9-year-old kid, that was pretty exciting."

Mauser later created some excitement of his own as the West quarterback, beating Althoff 35-0 and 27-7 in 1971 and 1972.

"We'd walk out on the field around 6 o'clock and half the stadium would be full," Mauser said. "The crowds were huge. I'd say the intensity of the Althoff game was a little bit greater than Belleville East, but a little bit less than East Side, because usually when we played East Side we were fighting for the conference championship."

Mauser said the high-water mark for Belleville football might have been 1969.

Belleville East was 10-0, Belleville West was 10-1 with the lone loss to East, and Althoff was 8-2 with losses to West and East. West quarterback John Bunch tossed three TD passes to beat Althoff 43-12 that year.

"At West, your season was pretty well based on whether you beat Althoff and East Side," Mauser said.

Electric atmosphere

Former Belleville West assistant coach and athletic director Pete Hensel was a part of the rivalry from 1969 until 1993.

"It was always a great rivalry and any time you play your next door neighbor, that's what it's going to be," Hensel said. "They were all big games."

Tom Calhoun, now the public address announcer for the St. Louis Blues and Gateway Grizzlies, used to broadcast the West-Althoff games with Joe May from 1973 to 1984 on WIBV.

The broadcasts included pregame interviews with each coach, halftime interviews and an extensive postgame show, followed by another sports show Saturday mornings.

"Walking into the stadium with the smell of the popcorn and the hot dogs and the bands playing ... it was always an electric atmosphere,' Calhoun recalled. "I remember as a little boy going to Belleville Township and Cathedral games. My dad would take me and we'd have to fight to get into the stadium sometimes, there were people lined up for blocks waiting to get in."

Pumped up

Coaches on both sides rarely had to resort to extra motivation during West-Althoff week.

"We just had to let that game take care of itself," Hensel said. "We talked to the kids, but there was no use trying to pump them up. I think they knew down deep how much the game meant. You didn't have to say a whole lot."

Hensel wouldn't miss the final game and there's a good chance that there might be the largest crowd this game has seen in years.

"I've been there for most of them since I retired in 1993," Hensel said. "I will miss it and hopefully sometime it may return again. But I'll definitely miss it."

As the head coach at Mater Dei High, Stiebel now gets to experience another intense rivalry with the annual "Milk Bowl" game against Central.

But he won't ever forget his Althoff-West games.

"It was the atmosphere and feeling in the game," he said. "You knew the guy across from you. I played against Dan Biegler and he lived up the street from me. I hate to see the rivalry end. I really do."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders


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