By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
Back in 1925, a group of Kentucky students rolled a beer barrel onto the football field following the Wildcats’ victory over the Tennessee Volunteers. The barrel was painted Kentucky blue, and the gesture was meant to add an exclamation point to the Wildcats’ recent – and ultimately fleeting – dominance over Tennessee on the gridiron.
For more than 70 years, the two schools played each year to see who would take that barrel home. Before long one half of the unusual (not to mention unwieldy) trophy was painted orange.
Eventually the trophy was retired all together because it finally occurred to the folks in the public relations departments of both universities that allowing college kids to play for a barrel full of beer on national television didn’t exactly provide the best optics.
The point here is the most memorable rivalry trophies are usually born out of unusual circumstances. The newly christened trophy Science Hill and Elizabethton will play for this Friday night at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium will be no different.
The Hilltoppers and the Cyclones were originally scheduled to square off at Kermit Tipton Stadium on the campus of Science Hill High School, but the installation of the artificial turf that was supposed to be completed well ahead of the 2021 football season was pushed back.
That left Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner looking for a place to move Science Hill’s season-opener against Elizabethton, and William B. Greene Jr. Stadium on the campus of ETSU proved to be the perfect landing spot.
“You’re a little upset over it, but in life what do you do? You turn around and turn it into something good,” Turner said. “And that’s what everybody’s done. We’ve turned it into a positive thing, and hopefully it’s something we can continue to do.”
The folks at Bank of Tennessee and Carter County Bank stepped in on Monday to help promote the neutral-site rivalry game that arose organically from the turf installation delay at Kermit-Tipton Stadium. The game will be called the Railroad Rumble, a nod to the fact that the two towns were once tethered together by the tracks of the old Tweetsie Railroad.
Science Hill and Elizabethton have been rivals for generations. Legends like Steve Spurrier and Jason Witten represented their respective towns in the rivalry, but up until now, the winner of the annual matchup hasn’t had a tangible trophy to take home.
That will change this week, and Turner is confident people will be impressed with the hardware that is up for grabs despite the fact it was created on very short notice.
“We had wanted to do this a long time ago, to come up with a rivalry trophy like Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett have, and it just didn’t take off,” Turner said. “I think you’ll be shocked when you see what they come up with. It’s going to be very unique.”
Turner also believes the silver lining extends beyond the trophy and the extra attention the annual rivalry game is receiving this year. After a 2020 season when the COVID-19 limited attendance, Turner expects this Friday’s game to be a full-fledged celebration of high school football, and the increased capacity at Greene Stadium will give everyone from both communities the opportunity to come out and enjoy a great evening of competition.
“It will be a tremendous celebration for the entire community to get to come out and start the year off with this type of game,” Turner said.
More information about the game as well as links to purchase tickets can be found at railroadrumble.com.