Althoff chose to end series because of increasing enrollment gap

News-DemocratAugust 31, 2013 

— When the horn sounds at the end of Friday's game, the Belleville West-Althoff high school football rivalry will come to an end.

An intense series that began in 1933, the games included entire generations of families and neighbors and friends.

It sparked honking horns, good-natured taunts and toilet paper in the trees at both schools. It evolved through different school names and scenarios, but has finally reached the end of the road.

"It's going to be a great event," said Althoff coach Ken Turner, whose team will make the short trek down Frank Scott Parkway for a 7 p.m. road game against the Maroons. "With it being the last one, it might sell out over there and it's going to be tough. There's a lot of memories on both sides and it's a game you always looked forward to on your schedule."

Althoff officials approached Belleville West after last season and informed them that they did not want the series to continue.

Their main concern was the large difference in enrollment -- Belleville West has 2,219 students to 400 at Althoff. Althoff's enrollment in the past has been more than 1,000, but last season the school was small enough to compete in the Class 2A state playoffs.

Belleville West competes in Class 7A.

Even going back to the days when Belleville Township High School was playing Cathedral High, Belleville always had the edge in enrollment.

Both teams have taken turns dominating the series, with Belleville West winning the last five games.

"Just talking with all the old football players, it means lot to those guys and not just from West," Belleville West coach Cameron Pettus said. "They take a lot of pride in that game and to have that rivalry discontinued is tough. We might have had the upper hand here recently, but you never know with those games.

"The city loves it and it's something that's hard to replace because it's so much fun to play a big game like that. We wish all three city schools still played each other and there was a still a true city championship."

Turner agreed the West-Althoff rivalry will be missed.

"We've got a lot of rivalries on our schedule and none are bigger than that," Turner said. "The kids get riled up and it's just a special deal. We're going to miss it and they're going to miss it."

Belleville West Principal Rich Mertens played football for the Maroons, so he's been on the Township Stadium field to feel the rivalry's heat.

His nephew, Eric Mertens, is Althoff's senior quarterback.

"It was probably our biggest rivalry because we were so close proximity-wise," Rich Mertens said of his playing days. "That always just added to it, it was true bragging rights. It's sad (that it's ending), but I kind of understand the reason."

Althoff High Principal Dave Harris, who wrestled at Belleville West, said Althoff put a lot of time and effort into making the decision to end the series.

Harris also credited Belleville District 201 for allowing Althoff to play home games at Belleville East and Belleville West a few years ago while Lindenwood Stadium (formerly Township Stadium) was being renovated.

"You hate to lose something like this because it's such a tradition around here," Harris said. "In sitting down and evaluating it over the last few years, we're sitting here with an enrollment of 400 and they're sitting there with an enrollment of 2,200.

"As the game goes on, it becomes a little bit of a health risk for our kids. It's different than a basketball game where you've got five guys going against five guys and you've got all those guys sitting on the bench. When you've got fresh bodies against guys going both ways, it becomes a physical wear on the kids."

Some have suggested West's recent run of success in the series is the reason Althoff is ending the series.

"That has nothing to do with it," Harris said. "We're looking at our entire schedule. It has nothing to do with them winning the games. They have more freshmen out for football than we have in our entire program."

Althoff stopped playing Belleville East several years ago because of a scheduling conflict that would have left the Crusaders playing East and West in back-to-back weeks.

A series that has drawn thousands and thousands of fans over the years and provided so many memories is on its final chapter.

"I'm going to miss it a lot," Turner said. "I'm going to soak this one in and we're going to go to battle."

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