Aaron Toland | Staff Writer
Manning vs. Brady. Army vs. Navy. Michigan vs. Ohio State. All great athletic rivalries have the ability to bring out the best in participating athletes. For the athletes, being victorious in an all-important rivalry game can be the highlight of their lives or careers; on the other hand, a loss in a rivalry can feel as devastating as the death of a dear friend and it can take just as long to recover. For Center Grove High School’s athletic teams one particular rival has brought out the best in Center Grove’s athletes, coaches and fans time and time again.
This heated rivalry is against Carmel, “Carmel stands out as our biggest rival.They are a school that we battle with and against in virtually every sport for superiority. They present the strongest ‘across the board’ competition to CG,” Center Grove Athletic Director Jon Zwitt said.
Center Grove is certainly not considered a poor athletic program. However, Carmel’s athletic achievements make Center Grove’s sporting accomplishments seem inadequate. Carmel is unarguably the greatest high school athletic dynasty in the history of Indiana; Carmel’s combined state championship victories in all sports currently sits at 137 —North Central is a far second with 61 total state championships. In comparison, Center Grove has a “measly” fifteen state championships. Additionally— in 2016— Carmel’s girls swim team broke the national record for most consecutive state championships in any high school sport by winning their 30th straight state title.
A large part of Carmel’s success is due to their 5,000 plus student body. The immense number of students gives Carmel an automatic athletic advantage against all schools with a lesser student population.
Even though Carmel’s student body is double Center Grove’s, Center Grove has gotten the better of Carmel in several matchups on the gridiron. Long time Center Grove football coach Eric Moore said, “The rivalry has been since 1998, when we both joined the same conference MIC. The athletic director Jon Zwitt decided it should be for a traveling trophy called the Copper Kettle, which is sitting in my office right now!”
Every year, the victor of the regular season game between Center Grove and Carmel wins the illustrious Copper Kettle.
“Our first win over the Greyhounds and our first time capturing the Copper Kettle was in 2000,” recalls Zwitt. “In 2007, we had a double overtime win at Carmel that featured some creative play calling, especially down the stretch. In 2008 — facing a 19 point deficit with just 6 minutes to play —the Trojans scored 22 unanswered points and won the first ever football state championship for CG.”
Several other close losses against Carmel are as noteworthy as the victories. “In a 2008 regular season game at home, and a battle down the wire, we lost on a controversial call on the last play of the game. In 2016, the Trojans and the Greyhounds faced off in Lucas Oil Stadium again for the State Championship. After tying the score with a 52 yard field goal and no time on the clock, CG lost in overtime, 16-13.”
Carmel is Center Grove’s overall challenger; however, in several sports other schools tend to pose a more serious threat to Center Grove’s success than Carmel.
“In cross country, we only see Carmel twice a year,” Boys Cross Country Howard Harrell, who has coached CGXC for 17 seasons, said. “The first time is at the MIC conference meet. The second time is at semi-state. Each of these meets are big, so it is not like Center Grove vs. Carmel. It is Center Grove vs. 20 other schools. In cross country if I had to pick a rival, it would be Franklin Community. We see them at the Franklin Community Invitational, Johnson County, Sectional, Regional, and Semi-State.”
Volleyball has a completely different rival to football and cross country. According to senior libero Devynn Merriman, Avon is their biggest rival, “ I feel like Avon is our biggest rival. It’s always a big competition because we always play the first game of the season against Avon. Also —for me—it’s a big rivalry because I have played with a lot of the players on the Avon team before. Coach Harbison also used to coach for Avon, so that is apart of the rivalry.”
Even though the Center Grove-Carmel rivalry can be heated and almost dangerously competitive at times, this rivalry is based on mutual respect.
“Some schools have hate motivated competition; not in this rivalry,” Moore said. “Both schools just want to win bad in every sport. In football there isn’t a team I respect more than the Carmel Greyhounds. They have one of the best high schools in the USA. In every aspect, academically, athletically, music, arts etc…”
The Carmel-Center Grove rivalry ultimately acts as a catalyst for the pinnacle of athletic achievement to occur. Zwitt defines a rival as “a team or an individual that elicits the best out of an opponent; the best focus, the best performances, many of the best outcomes, many of the best memories. A rival is never to be hated but consistently respected.”
Moore adds, “Center Grove has huge respect for Carmel and always will. That’s the way it should be.”
Center Grove vs. Carmel is the direct embodiment of this definition of a rivalry. This rivalry is one based on mutual respect and the urge to have athletic superiority. Any time the two teams have stepped foot onto the gridiron, the track, the basketball court or any playing field, the best focus, performances, outcomes and memories have occurred. Time and time again.