County rivalry rekindled
MICHIGAN CITY — There’s something special about the La Porte-Michigan City game — or should I say, the Michigan City-La Porte game? — that makes it stand out on the schedule in bold, capital letters.
“Every time I stepped on the field or court against them, I experienced a different feeling that no other team could duplicate,” said La Porte graduate Scott Cooper, a football and basketball player for the Slicers. “The games were always just a little more smash-mouth and nasty, and every big play was magnified more than usual.”
So what makes it stand out? As someone with ties to both school, Lucas Snyder has a take few people do. The Wolves track coach and assistant athletic director played and coached football for the Slicers before moving to the other side of the county.
“The proximity and genuine distaste for each other leads to the biggest crowd of the year, not just for football but also basketball, volleyball and especially track and field,” Snyder said. “I think it’s typically the best environment each team plays in all year.”
Ah, who can resist a little genuine distaste? For players, it’s a sentiment that develops at a young age and builds as they get to high school.
“One thing that makes this rivalry so special to the players is you grow up playing against these guys,” Logan Kaletha, a 2014 City grad who starred in football and baseball and now plays baseball at IU. “I can remember even during my Pop Warner days there was just a different feeling in the air when it came to playing La Porte, so when you get to the high school level, you’re playing to prove you’re the best in La Porte County.”
The proximity essential to a rivalry has always been there, but the competitiveness has not. The series, dating back to the MC consolidation in 1995, stands Slicers 20, Wolves 6 entering Friday. City won the first meeting but only came out on top three times again up to 2014.
“Back then, (La Porte) didn’t lose to Michigan City. It was just unacceptable,” said South Central coach Buzz Schoff, a La Porte teammate of Snyder’s and also a former assistant there. “It was engrained in kids’ minds, you beat Michigan City. Now City kids are saying, we’re better than you. It was a different feeling when you came to practice. The coaches were a little more up, a little more in your face when you screwed up. I remember (former La Porte assistant) Eric Stephens saying in order for it to be a rivalry, you have to be able to win a game. When I was in high school, (M.C. was) the whipping boy of the DAC. ...You didn’t want to lose because you shouldn’t.”
During Schoff’s and Snyder’s time, LP didn’t, and it wasn’t close. Schoff was on the the Slicers staff in 2012 and 2013 when their only wins came against City.
“That was a huge win,” Schoff said. “It was a fun rivalry because you always had to compete regardless of what the records were. We were two evenly-matched teams. Michigan City always had guys. You still had to play them tough even if they were 0-7. There was respect — you hoped both teams were 7-0 going into the game and when it was over it was, I hope you win next week — but right now, it was, we want to crush you. You know it’s gonna be a blood bath.”
An undercard game rarely acknowledged outside of the county for years, the rivalry ratcheted up in 2014 when the Wolves won in double overtime in the regular season, then lost 24-0 in the sectional. No one needs to remind City where La Porte ended up that year.
“...It was kind of the catalyst that ended with LaPorte making it down to Indy,” Snyder said. “The rivalry has been really one-sided but it’s almost always a battle and a game that the players won’t forget. The records coming into this game won’t matter. What really stands out to me is how much each school’s student section gears up for this game. Each school uses it as their Homecoming game.”
While Kaletha was on the wrong end of the outcomes, his brother Mason was a big part of the City team last year that bounced La Porte in the sectional after a wild, last-second 58-56 loss in the regular season at Kiwanis Field in a reversal of the 2014 scenario. The Wolves went on to win their first sectional and regional.
“There’s a lot of excitement and tension between these schools and any chance you get to beat them is something that everyone gets really excited for, especially the fans,” Kaletha said. “I can honestly say it is one of the better rivalries in Indiana and the boys should cherish every moment of it.”
La Porte grad Scott Cooper, now playing at Grand Valley State, certainly did. He was on the ’16 team that clinched the Duneland Athletic Conference title in another memorable matchup, 42-35, at a packed Ames Field. There was no bigger hype for a regular-season game with the teams a combined 13-1, an exception to the rule in a series where simultaneous success was rare.
“The football rivalry is even bigger now that both teams have been so successful in recent seasons,” Cooper said. “Both schools have awesome fans so it’s just fun when we meet up. I think La Porte vs. M.C. is up there with the best rivalries in the state. With so much history between us, there’s just an edge to this rivalry.”
City’s 52-8 rout Friday broke a three-year regular-season losing streak to LP and marked the first time it’s ever beaten the Slicers in consecutive meetings. But I’m guessing most of you already knew that.