Steve’s Ramblings: One of the greatest, hidden rivalries in Southern Illinois

By Steve Dunford 

THOMPSONVILLE –  When you hear of rivalries in Southern Illinois, you think of teams such as Pinckneyville-DuQouin, Herrin-Marion, Carbondale-Murphysboro.  Here in Franklin County, Benton-West Frankfort tops the list.  Then probably Christopher/Sesser-Valier.

The hidden rivalry unless you have experienced it is Thompsonville-Galatia.  I will refer to we as Thompsonville.  I can not help it.

Jack Bullock was there covering the game.  I told him I would link his story to the website, and I was going to sit back, sit on the Thompsonville side, and be a fan last night.

The only reason WEBQ was not there, because there is a weak cell phone signal coming out of the steel structure gym.  The Harrisburg station always would broadcast the game, if there was not a conflict with the Bulldogs.  A lot of times it was on the FM Frequency that was Rock 100 (Which now is owned by River Radio and is Z-100 now.)

When both teams were in the Conrad Allen Holiday Tournament when Mike Mitchell was voice of the Benton Rangers, he would broadcast from Wayne City on Q-106 if there was not a schedule confict.

This is a rivalry where the record books are thrown out.  During the days the Tigers were independents, or in the Mid South they still had a home and home against each other every year.  The teams have eleven miles of State highway 34 separating them.

Since Thompsonville joined the GEC about ten years ago, it means much more is on the line since it was a conference game last night.  It would take me a while to explain the quirky setup of the Greater Egyptian Conference, but when they face each other in February at Galatia, it will not count in the conference standings.

Some still disagree with the move the Tigers and NCOE made to go to the GEC.  It did not cause the now defunct Mid-South Conference to crumble.  I will tell you my side of the story from a T’ville perspective form a one-on-one basis.

I will say this, along with Galatia, the rivalry between Crab Orchard and Thompsonville has been heated over the years.  It is ten miles to Galatia, and 15 miles to Crab Orchard and Carrier Mills.  Along with less travel, this alumnus loves having the two top rivals in the same conference.

In the Mid South days, the closest conference school was Webber Township if you took back roads, and if you took all highways, Waltonville, which is about 30 miles.  The long trips to Pope County and Hardin County are negated by the long haul to Grayville.

On a night when the temperature was six degrees at tip-off, there was a full house.  If it was not so cold, there would have been standing room only.  Because of the close proximity of the schools, the game is played on a Tuesday night.

I usually sit behind the scorers table.  I did not hold court as much as I usually do, because I was into the game so much.  As I was sitting on the front row at the center line, official David Hill, Sr., told me to behave myself.  I think I only barked one time at the officials.

Between the third and fourth quarter he told me that I am getting to old for this.  I have quit for years, but I am back at it again.

The two coaches that are opposing each other were Rod Wallace, who is on his second tour at Galatia is coaching because the love of the game.

Before the game, I don’t talk to coaches unless I am spoken to.  I will give them a handshake that is it.  If they want to talk, I will talk.  Since I was a fan, I was going to talk to him after the game.  There was a little grand-daughter that was holding his hand.  Being a “paw-paw” is a lot more important than talking to me.

As a coach, I think I would work the officials like he does.  I think I even barked to “T” him up.

On the other bench,  have Pete Gordon, who is seeing the rebuilding process through.  He is starting to reap the benefits now.  The Tigers only had one conference win last year.  They are in the thick of things in the GEC, with a 3-1 record in the conference and 8-6 overall.

There were some times last night things got a little chippy.  Even though Galatia has a 5-10 record, they are a good ball club.  They gave Christopher all they wanted in the Bearcats vs. Bearcats, first round game of the Sesser-Valier Holiday tournament. They played in the very tough Vienna Classic to start the year.

At the game last night, I began to reflect on some of the old tales that was told about the rivalry that happened way before my time.

Tales get stretched over time in cafes, barber shops, and years ago “fillin stations.” Some of the real old timers used to say there was a special train that used to run when the two met in basketball.  They would say there would be the teams waiting at the depot when they would exit the train, ready to fist fight.

I know the rivalry at one time was to the point the two did not schedule games against each other.  Some claimed the IHSA stepped in.  My gut feeling it was self imposed.  I think the IHSA at the time had too many schools to worry about, than two district schools in the Southeastern part of the state, in the one class system days.

There was a fist fight that took place on the stage between Doug Creel and a member of the Galatia coaching staff while playing at Galatia.   It was at halftime.  They went down to our locker room mouthing off to one of our players.   Creel chased him up the steps.  There was a skirmish on the stage.   There was no blows between blue and red thrown.

Someone pulled the curtain, I am not narking on who, but I got the blame for it.  The Galatia Cheerleaders were doing their pom pom routine.  Both bleachers emptied, just to watch the show.

Earlier that year there was a Galatia ban placed on us by Coach Creel.  We lost by one on a last second shot from the back divided half line in the old Thompsonville gym that was waved off.

We got over it pretty quick after we got dressed.  There was a convoy of cars that went and ate pizza at Bondo’a with a lot of the Galatia players.   We all passed the bus on the way down there.

I was holding court being entertaining to some “mixed company” of Tigers and Bearcats, around the front table that seats about 15.  (For those who have been there)  There was some good nature teasing and some heated pong games that took place.

We were enemies for 32 minutes.  During that time, we hated each others guts from the tip to the horn.  As soon as we changed into street clothes we were buddies.

The next Monday at practice we were banned from going to Galatia unless we were with our parents.   It was not a very fun practice to say the least. We were told how the Beers’ boys were laughing at us.  (They were jokingly.)

Last night I witnessed the same.  When that ball was tipped up, on the court or end the stands, there were enemies across from each other.  After the game, there were people crossing the way, as friends, carrying on a conversation.

There are families that are intertwined.   There was a lady last night, well into her 80’s that lived in Thompsonville most of her life, had a great-grandson playing for Galatia.  She was all over the referees and “getting into the rivalry.”  I can think of four or five similar cases last night.

At half-time there was a “Parting of the Red Sea” moment.  The Galatia-Thompsonville Lady Cats (standing for Bearcats and Tigers)  had a varsity only contest at Galatia.  At halftime, ones who were team mates when they left Galatia, were sitting in opposite bleachers rooting their respective teams on.

Today I was thinking how many coaches over the year got their start at Galatia or Thompsonville.  In fact Congressman Glenn Poshard. coached at both schools in his younger days.

Long time coach Ed Belva, who spent the majority of his career at Waltonville, started at Galatia.  Long time coach and administrator at Sesser-Valier, Nick Laur started there.

Along with Creel, current Southeastern Illinois College coach Mark Motsinger, got his start at Thompsonville. Gallatin County Coach Doug Miller started his coaching career at T’ville.  Russ Hobbs, who has coached at the junior high level for around 40 years at Christopher. was the head coach of the Tigers at the start of his coaching

When these two schools hook up, over time they traditionally split with each other, with the home team coming out on top.  There is something that will happen until the Lord comes back, each team will leave the gym blaming the loss on the referees.








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