When the Thomas Dale Knights and Lloyd C. Bird Skyhawks take the field Friday night, they will know what’s on the line. It won’t be the district standings; this game doesn’t matter in those. It’s all about bragging rights and pride.
“The kids like it, it’s a big crowd and it’s a great atmosphere,” said L.C. Bird head coach David Bedwell. “It’s not a game that means a lot as far as the district standings, but walking around with your chest poked with your Bird or Dale shirt on is what really counts. It’s good for the community to say, ‘Our side won.’”
The “Battle of Chester” was first played in 1980 as the two teams battled to a 0-0 tie. The next year, Thomas Dale emerged with the first victory in the series, defeating the Skyhawks by 27-13. Bird took its first victory in 1983, blanking the Knights with a score of 33-0.
The competition between the two teams couldn’t be much closer, as the overall record between them stands at 18-17-1 in favor of Dale.
“Rivalry is defined as Dale vs. Bird,” said Bedwell. “It’s the Battle of Chester. It doesn’t get bigger in this area.”
Last year, the two teams split two games. Bird won the regular season game in dramatic fashion as current Skyhawks quarterback Anthony Harris took off on a 40-yard run to win the game late with a score at 21-14. In the playoffs, the Knights were victorious, defeating Bird en route to their 2009 D-6 State Championship.
“The last couple of years it’s been a great game,” said Harris, a Skyhawk senior. “They came out strong early in the regular season and we were able to come back and win.
Later in the season in the playoffs, we had our chances, but they got us. It’s always a great competition.”
As for this year, Bird has gotten off to a 2-0 start. The team will be coming off a 54-0 rout of district rival Huguenot in a game that saw six different Skyhawks reach the end zone. Thomas Dale lost to Varina last Friday by a score of 40-19, but trailed by as little as six late into the third quarter.
Both teams won their first games of the season. Thomas Dale weighs in at 1-1, with its victory coming over Manchester, a team that’s expected to compete for the Dominion District title this season with L.C. Bird. Bird is looking for its 11th straight district title.
With lots of local media coverage and thousands of Chester residents ready to cheer for their side, the Battle of Chester is a game situation that not many players are used to coming into high school. Containing the excitement of the large, loud crowd and the adrenaline that will undoubtedly flow leading up to the game, according to first-year
Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Tucker, is an important part of prepping a team for a game like this.
“You have to prepare your kids keep them focused and not let them get caught up in the hype,” said Tucker. “A good job was always done when Vic (Williams) was here of making sure the kids were focused, it’s a big part.”
Friday’s match-up is not only a great football game, but the community gets out and gets together for the match-up each year. Attendance for the game regularly reaches the 5,000 to 6,000 range, and many residents have attended the game since its onset.
“It’s great to see the community come out and get together,” said Tucker. “Neighbors that went to opposite schools, people sporting their colors and supporting the kids, and in that situation, everyone wins.”
This game is also monumental for the students and in the schools, as well. Spirit weeks and pep rallies are historically held the week of the game. Students in middle school already know which side they’ll be on when they come into high school and, chances are, they’ve already attended a game.
“It’s a big game for the whole school, said Deon Clark, a junior and the Skyhawks middle linebacker. “This is the game everyone is hyped up to play in and watch.”
Thomas Dale fans and players alike will also be ready. They want keep their bragging rights, which they won in the teams’ last matchup.
“This may be the last chance I get at playing Bird,” said Demetric Jackson, the quarterback for Dale. “So I want to beat them and make everyone in Chester proud. We want the bragging rights for another year. This game is great, big crowd, lots of people.”
To add to the history of the rivalry, both schools have seen players head to major colleges and the NFL over the years. Most recently from Bird came Jason Snelling, who plays with the Atlanta Falcons, and Rudi Johnson, a former NFL pro-bowler who’s best years came with the Cincinnati Bengals. Also of note, former Pro Bowl fullback and
Thomas Dale running back William Henderson went on to win two Super Bowl rings, sharing the backfield with Brett Favre for 11 seasons. “Boogie,” as Henderson is affectionately called by fans, is still active in the Chester community and retired from the NFL in 2007.
The game offers good times, friends and a community-oriented atmosphere, and, who knows, the crowd might be seeing a potential pro bowler on the field. The defending state champions will face a team that’s won 10 straight district titles. Let the tailgating continue, it’s football season.