News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 27, 2013

Coaches understand reasons for moving North-South football back to schools

David Hughes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Considering Tim Herrin did not grow up in Terre Haute, he’s not too disappointed that his first North-South high school football game as the Braves’ head coach won’t be played in Indiana State’s Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30.

But when word came down Wednesday that the annual Victory Bell contest would be moved to each school on an alternate basis — with this year’s battle being at North — Herrin did admit he was surprised.

“I guess I’m a little surprised,” he told the Tribune-Star. “I think it will be good in the long run, though.”

“Yeah, it’s a big change,” noted North head coach Chris Barrett, who first heard the news Tuesday night. “Tradition can be a lot to overcome, but I think this can be a positive thing.”

That tradition stems from every North-South regular-season clash taking place at the larger neutral site since the fall of 1971 when both schools opened their doors for the first time. With its current set-up, the stadium can handle a capacity of about 12,000 people.

But financial concerns — primarily concession profits (which go to ISU and food provider Sodexo as part of its contract with the university whenever athletic events are played at Memorial Stadium and Hulman Center) and rental costs ($1,468 to ISU for Memorial Stadium each year) — caused the Vigo County School Corp. to rethink its position on the game location.

With the new arrangement, the host school will keep the concession profits from the well-attended football game each year.

“That money will directly impact the athletic budgets at those schools … so that would be a plus in that regard,” Barrett assessed. “Plus, you’re saving on the rental fee.”

“The main reason is looking at the cost factor and the loss of possible revenue with concessions,” Herrin confirmed.

For the coaches involved, they’re not worried so much about the location as they are about being able to play the game somewhere where the players and fans can enjoy the action.

“It doesn’t change our goal and that’s to keep that Bell right here at Terre Haute North High School,” Barrett emphasized. “Obviously, tradition is a good thing and that game has always been played at ISU. That atmosphere has always been awesome. … I think with the environment at the high schools [in the future], it will separate each school to its own side. And if you get people into a smaller stadium, it could get really exciting and get people closer to the action.”

“It doesn’t matter where we play at,” Herrin added. “It’s for the players. I’m looking forward to it, whether it’s at Terre Haute North or Terre Haute South.”

Although no current players were available for comment Wednesday, Herrin doesn’t think they’ll have a problem with the switch.

“I think they’ll be excited,” he predicted, “but I’m not sure exactly what their reaction will be.”

One fan who said he’ll continue to attend the annual rivalry game when time permits is former North coach and current realtor Wayne Stahley, who guided the Patriots for 21 seasons from 1981 through 2001. He remembers when the Victory Bell showdown at the stadium served as homecoming for both schools, which he thought made the game itself somewhat of a sideshow between lengthy band performances and queen/court presentations.

Even though that tradition ceased years ago, he doesn’t mind seeing the stadium tradition end as well.

“I don’t blame ’em,” Stahley said. “I said a long time ago I wanted it home-and-home. Every time we played in the sectional, we played ‘em home-and-home. I like it.”

Stahley acknowledged that he enjoyed “the great crowds” at Memorial Stadium over the years, but he expects the crowds to be great at the high schools too.

“If nothing else,” he suggested, “just build more bleachers at North and South.

“And if people don’t like the fact that it gets too crowded, just get there earlier.”