About five miles from the farm is a small town called Newton Falls. Back in the 50’s through the 70s, Newton Falls kind of considered themselves the city—at least that’s how us farmers saw it. We were fine when we came to town to buy groceries or needed a part from the hardware store. But when it came to athletics, that was a different story. It became an ethnic grudge match. The prideful Italians of Newton Falls against those dirty, uncultured Welsh- and English-bred farmers. It was very similar to the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks in the movie West Side Story. Only this was the country folk against the “big city,” even though Newton Falls had less than 4,000 residents.
The Southeast High School Pirates and Newton Falls Tigers were close enough in proximity that it made scheduling football and basketball games a pretty easy thing to do, but not so easy to play. One of the problems was that the Tigers never wanted to play on the Pirates’ turf. We always had to travel to “the city.” As time went on, we country folk realized that the Tigers would always win. Now they had some good athletes, but they weren’t THAT good. They seemed to always have a little help from the referees when the going got tough. Here a penalty, there a foul, and pretty soon the home fries landed a point burger and it was game over. We began to resent it. Coaches coached angry. Players played angry. As far back as I can remember this rivalry was really mean-spirited.
In the 1960s, the teams had to quit playing football against one another because of all the fights. I remember when I was about seven years old briskly walking out of the Tigers’ stadium with my parents because my brother Larry’s football game had been called due to a huge fight. That was that. When I was in high school, we resumed playing the Tigers in basketball. Their all-state guard harassed, elbowed, and tripped our star point guard Wayne Wheaton all night with impunity. Finally, Wayne had enough and laid out the Tiger cager with one punch. We were all proud of Wayne for that. But once again that ended play between the two schools. So this leads me to the point of this story. In the late 1950s, one landmark in Newton Falls was loved by the farmers, even to this day—Sam’s Pizza. My very first pizza was from Sam’s.
As the story goes, my oldest brother Chuck went to Sam’s to pick up a pizza. Some Tigers hanging out there in their varsity jackets made fun of my brother and pushed him around. So he left and came back with a half-dozen Pirates in the back of our old Dodge stock truck, backed the truck up to the door, dropped the gangplank, walked into Sam’s wearing his varsity jacket and gestured to the Tigers, who rushed him. He ran into the stock truck and the Tigers followed, getting the snot beat out of them by the Pirates hiding in the stocks. No referees to balance the score this time. To this day, there never has been another problem picking up pizza from Sam’s. Philippians 2:3 (ESV) says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Maybe a good fight once in a while brings humility. And that’s the story of the Jets vs the Sharks (Pirates vs the Tigers), country style.