Thursday, August 23, 2001

Lebanon, Mason strap it on tonight

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — It's the county seat city versus the Cartier city.

        History rich Lebanon against nouveau riche Mason is increasingly one of the most intense prep football rivalries in the Tristate.

        Add to the mix nearly 10,000 fans expected for tonight's Lebanon-Mason game — the inaugural game for all of Ohio's high school football season — and you have what Lebanon coach David Brausch calls a clean but competitive “backyard brawl.”

[photo] Mason coach Gary Popovich shows his support as the football team prays at the beginning of practice Wednesday. The Comets play Lebanon tonight.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        “It's as big a game as you can get that is not for a league title,” said coach Brausch.

        First-year Mason coach Gary Popovich agreed. He described tonight's Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown at Galbreath Field as a “friendly rivalry that sometimes gets heated.”

        “It's mostly the location and closeness of the two schools,” said coach Popovich. “The players and other students see each other out in the community all the time.”

        While the competition mostly stems from proximity — fewer than 10 miles separate the high schools of the two Warren County cities — there are other factors fueling the high-octane rivalry.

        A quick glance at the communities' stats shows that while Lebanon has prospered in many ways in the last decade, booming Mason has outpaced it to become the county's largest and most affluent city as well as the second-fastest growing city in all of Ohio:

   Other Tristate football rivalries
   • Roger Bacon-Purcell Marian.
   • Moeller-Princeton.
   • Highlands-Covington Catholic.
   • Newport-Newport Central Catholic.
   • Bellevue-Dayton.
   • Summit Country Day-Cincinnati Country Day.
   • Reading-Lockland.
   • Elder-St. Xavier.
   • Moeller-St. Xavier.
   • Colerain-LaSalle.
   • Anderson-Turpin.
   • Elder-Moeller.
   • Amelia-Glen Este.
   • Mariemont-Wyoming.
   • Madeira-Indian Hill.
   • Lakota East-Lakota West.
   • Middletown-Hamilton.
   • Fairfield-Hamilton.
   • Mason-Kings.
        • Mason from 1990 to 2000 had a 92 percent population jump, and residents now number more than 22,000. Lebanon, which grew 62 percent in the same decade, has more than 17,000 residents.

        • In median household income, according to recent state education data, Mason families pull in more than $42,000 annually — while Lebanon households earn about $31,000.

        But when high school football season rolls around, it is the Mason Comets fans, who suffered through a 4-6 season last year, who compare stats with envy: In the last five years, the Lebanon Warriors are 53-8, including a state championship in 1998, and were undefeated during the regular season last year.

        Victor Kidd, owner of Kidd Coffee in Mason, said local fans are mindful of Lebanon's recent success and want to knock off their neighbor and rival.

        “But it's a friendly rivalry, not a bitter thing,” said Mr. Kidd, whose restaurant is off Reading Road a short distance from Mason High School.

        He said the game is a chance for Mason to “establish themselves and get back to the top of the football heap.”

        It's also a chance for some positive identification and bonding for fans from both communities, said Tony Grasha, a University of Cincinnati psychology professor.

        “When people watch and root for a team on the field, it's not just a team but a symbol that is part of us,” said Mr. Grasha, author of the book Practical Applications of Psychology.

        Mr. Grasha added that though Lebanon may appear to be more working-class than affluent Mason, that perception is immaterial once players step onto the field.

        “When you get on a football field, it's an equalizer. That is one of the reasons there is so much interest in the game,” he said.

        Mason junior Christine Cranmer, whose brother is a senior linebacker for the Comets, joked that among her classmates, there is a mock hatred toward Lebanon's football program. But she adds that the coming game is about friendly competition with a dash of festival thrown in.

        “It's pretty much a big social event, too,” Christine explained.

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