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Neighboring programs on friendlier terms these days
Ripon High head coach Chris Johnson hoists the Ripon Bowl Rivalry Trophy following the Indians’ 61-12 victory over Ripon Christian in 2006. The trophy hasn’t exchanged hands since. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Never mind the final score.

Many have forgotten those digits anyway.

What made the inaugural Ripon Bowl rivalry game on the night of Nov. 4, 2006 so memorable was the resounding (fashion) statement Ripon Christian made on Ripon High soil during Ripon High’s homecoming.

Down 27-0 at halftime, Ripon Christian players came out of the locker room wearing their blue jerseys, typically reserved for home games. Yes, they started the game wearing the away whites.

Then-RC head coach Jeremy Byrd insisted it was all in good fun, and partially an homage to his favorite college head coach, Steve Spurrier, who pulled a similar stunt while coaching the University of Florida.
The meeting of coaches at midfield after the 61-12 stomping not-so-gently applied by the Indians went a little beyond, “Hey, good game coach.”

Ah, the good ole days, when players from both schools treated on-the-record interviews with the media like everyday conversations with classmates when talking about that other team in town.

“There’s a lot of respect between the two coaching staffs and the two schools,” Ripon head coach and athletic director Chris Johnson said Wednesday. “At the end of the day we’re doing the same thing: Working with kids and hoping they can be the best they can be while having a good time with it.”

Whoa, what?

A far cry from what Johnson was saying after the game.

“Whatever they were trying to do for their kids, it really motivated our kids,” Johnson quoted that night. “It’s basically saying, ‘You know what? This is our house.

“They’ve run their mouths all year. They’ve said in the papers that they don’t respect our team and our program. Our kids have been more motivated this week than they ever have. To see them come out in their home jerseys — I didn’t have to say anything.”   

Ripon and RC will get together a fifth time on the gridiron Saturday with kickoff set at 4 p.m. Ripon High is celebrating its 100th-year anniversary with a pre-game parade and capping it with homecoming festivities at night.

Much has changed since the Ripon Bowl first kicked off. Well, the result has not — Ripon has won all four games by an average score of 37.25 points.  

The most competitive contest was in 2007 when Ripon squeaked out a 7-0 halftime lead before rolling, 31-0.

That was the year Ripon Christian, with no football stadium of its own, was supposed to take its turn in “hosting” the Ripon Bowl at Ripon High’s Stouffer Field, but Round 2 was staged in another town and another county.

Unbeknownst to John Vander Schaaf, who took over as the varsity’s head coach in 2007 after serving as the program’s sophomore coach, the game was to be moved to nearby Modesto Christian High in Salida. That led to a little nastiness between the two schools, but Vander Schaaf left it up to those “above my grade scale” and the anyone else who wanted to join in on the spat.

“Our (athletic director) at the time (Tiger Shelton) said it wasn’t his decision, and when I asked Chris about it he said we were welcomed to play at Ripon High and that he didn’t know why we had to move the game,” Vander Schaaf said. “I just remember everyone pointing the finger the other way. We just played and it went on.
“That was it.”

Really, that was it.

The rivalry has since gone on without much incident.

Surely the friendly trash talk is unavoidable, with athletes in town, no matter the school affiliation, coming in frequent contact with each other outside the athletic arena.

“These kids know each other,” Johnson said. “They go to church together, see each other around town and they play each other in other sports. It carries over into everything, so it’s a good rivalry, a healthy rivalry.

“When you have a school that’s one block away, you’re going to have a rivalry.”

Whatever bitterness that once existed between the football programs was short-lived. It was apparent that it fully subsided last season when RC was allowed to use Stouffer Field as its “home” site for the Ripon Bowl.

Ripon Christian manned the snack bar and got to pocket the money, and it agreed to have its fans sit on the visitors side so that Ripon can accommodate its larger crowd. The padding on both goal posts were blue for the game.

And with Ripon Christian now in the Southern League, where it should be more competitive playing schools near its enrollment size and level of play, both sides agreed to keep the fledgling tradition of the football rivalry alive for the benefit of the schools and the community.

“I get along really well with Chris, he’s a great guy,” Vander Schaaf said. “It’s been a really good relationship. We wanted to keep this Ripon Bowl thing going, and I’m grateful they did, too.

“We’re not going to see anybody in the Southern League as good as Ripon. It gives us a chance to really look at our team and see where are weaknesses are exposed.”

Before the two teams met for the first time in 2006, Byrd borrowed a kicking tee from Coach Johnson and told him that the Indians will have to beat his squad to get it back. Ripon has kept the tee around, and with it the Ripon Bowl Rivalry Trophy.

“The tee is kind of falling apart, so we need to get it fixed up before Saturday,” Johnson said. “Someday RC is going to win and take the tee and the trophy — hopefully it’s not this Saturday, though.”

Johnson admits that the rivalry has lost some of its luster because of the one-sided routs, but both teams do still get up for the game without provocation. One motivation that Ripon has year to year is that every group of Indians doesn’t want to be the one to lose to RC.

“It won’t be a rivalry until we can beat them,” Vander Schaaf said. “When that happens it will really be a rivalry, but we haven’t been able to do that. We think one of these years we will, I just don’t know when that will happen.”

Ooh, a little smack-talk there, coach? We’re getting somewhere.

Coach Johnson, your rebuttal?

“I think they’ve come a long ways. I like what John and his staff have going on. We’ve been in a situation before where we went into a game with 17-18 healthy bodies, and it’s darn tough.

“But they have kids in the right spots, play the whole game and never hang their heads. They play with class, and that’s a reflection of their coach. I have nothing but good things to say about them.”

And there you have it.

The kinder, gentler Ripon Bowl rivalry.