Denfeld News

Sept. 24, 2006
Duluth News Tribune

Old rivalry prepared us for war
By Jim Heffernan

Duluth Central skunked Denfeld in football a little over a week ago, and the next day I drove around town to survey the destruction. There was none. The streets were not strewn with crepe paper; the two schools were not painted in the colors of their rival.

Life appeared normal, as though the gridiron tilt of the city's oldest football rivalry was just another game. I suppose it is today, and to quote the lyrics of an old popular song, "Ain't that a shame."

I fear a great tradition has been lost -- one the police and school officials are happy to be rid of if, indeed, any current school officials and cops remember the great days of the Denfeld-Central rivalry when boys were boys and girls were girls and dogs ate dogs. You get it.

I suppose I have dredged up these memories once or twice in the past, but I feel it is important at times to record aspects of local history that would otherwise be overlooked. One of these is the chaos that accompanied the annual Denfeld-Central football game. I was part of it in the mid-1950s when I was a student at Denfeld.

In those days, Denfeld vs. Central was like Sunni vs. Shiite, cat vs. dog, Klobuchar vs. Kennedy, Pawlenty vs. Hatch, Oberstar vs. Grams, shirts vs. skins, Kramer vs. Kramer, etc. Volatile.

And in a baffling policy that seemed to feed into the most dangerous aspects of the rivalry, Duluth school officials of that day always scheduled the Denfeld-Central game as close to prank-prone Halloween as they could. It was always the final game of the season for both teams, so by then the inter-school hatred had reached a fever pitch.

Both schools scheduled their biggest annual pep rallies the day of the game. At Denfeld it was named "Maroon and Gold Day," with most students wearing the school colors and kids with cars decorated them with crepe streamers in the appropriate colors.

Some of those cars found their way to the campus of the opposing school for a little innocent prank-making like painting things such as the school building exterior or nearby parked vehicles. Water balloons and eggs flew like Scud missiles from highly decorated speeding cars, with the reaction on the receiving end: "This time they've gone too far."

A few days before this year's Denfeld-Central game, when Denfeld went down to ignominious defeat, the Denfeld Class of 1956 held its 50th reunion. It was in their senior year (I was one class behind) that Denfeld had a winning football team with the city championship in sight. But on a windy, rainy Halloween-week night at Public Schools Stadium, the field a sea of mud, coach John Vucinovich's Central Trojans pulled off an unexpected victory.

For their half-century reunion, the Class of 1956 submitted short sketches about their lives since leaving Denfeld. Duluthian Rollie Strand, who was in the Hunters' backfield that night, took the opportunity to remind his classmates these 50 years later that everybody knows Denfeld should have won, and that "we know who the best team was that year." It still stings, even though Strand, the turncoat, later spent several years coaching Central football.

There are those who would decry such a bitter rivalry and ask, "What does this have to do with education?"

It has everything to do with education. What better way for youth to experience the emotions that lead to war between nations?

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