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Zopf: Pride plays big role in rivalries
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This may be stating the obvious, but there’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

The list of the best rivalries in sports probably goes something like this: Yankees/Red Sox, Duke/North Carolina, Ohio State/Michigan and Georgia/Florida. But great rivalries don’t just exist in the collegiate and professional ranks, and here in Hall County, we have one of the best high school rivalries around in Gainesville/North Hall.

It’s no secret that these two schools and their respective athletic programs don’t like each other. You can see that any time the two meet up in football, basketball, soccer or baseball. Heck, these two could probably compete in an exhibition kickball game and the stands would be filled with fans hoping that their side comes out on top.

I was fortunate to witness the Gainesville/North Hall rivalry during football season, which turned out exactly like everyone thought it would: Big Red rolled in a game that was pretty much over before it started.

Last week, I was also fortunate to witness the rivalry play out on the baseball diamond, and like the football game, Gainesville entered the game as an overwhelming favorite.

Apparently, no one told the Trojans.

Down by three runs early, North Hall battled back to score five runs in the bottom of the third inning to put Gainesville on its heels. The Trojans didn’t care that they were coming off back-to-back losses where they surrendered 12 or more runs, or that Gainesville had scored 16 or more runs in its last two games.

None of that matters when you play your rival. What does matter is pride; pride that can sometimes lead you to an upset win, a stunning comeback, or just to actually make a game of it.

Sure, Gainesville came back to win the game in the top of the seventh, but the pride that lies inside all of the North Hall players made sure that their hated rivals earned the win.

What made Wednesday’s game (and outcome) even more interesting was the fact that one of North Hall’s former stars actually led Gainesville to victory.

K.J. McAllister, who played three years at North Hall before transferring to Gainesville, recorded a program-best six stolen bases and scored the game-winning run. After the game, McAllister said that playing his former team had no impact on his “getting up” for the game, and that playing North Hall was just like playing any other region opponent.

This might be cynical, but I don’t believe it. And before the entire Gainesville and North Hall communities flood my inbox with their opinions of the subject, I have to let you in on a little secret: I really don’t care about transfers and move-ins and all that other garbage. That’s not what this is about.

What it is about is the aforementioned pride. The pride that North Hall used to make the game interesting was equally present in Gainesville’s dugout, and especially with McAllister.

I know that he said that playing his former team wasn’t a big deal, but I also know that I have seen players rise to the occasion when competing against their former teams.

The prime example for me is Johnny Damon, who I absolutely loathed when he was the beard-wearing, free-spirited centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox. But my hatred for Damon paled in comparison to the Red Sox fans disdain for him once he signed with the Yankees.

Donning the pinstripes, Damon played with the same laid-back approach and constantly came through with timely hits, especially against his former team. And he did so under a constant barrage of negativity from his former fans.  They held up signs that called him “Judas,” and said that he “looked like Jesus, but threw like Mary.”

Of course, what Damon went through when he travelled to Boston is on a completely different level than what McAllister had to go through. But that doesn’t mean that McAllister didn’t feel some animosity.

Snide remarks were made and chants of “North Hall reject” were shouted, but did that phase McAllister? No. Actually, it probably motivated him.

I’m not one to try and get inside the head of a high school athlete, but as a fan and former player, I know for a fact that there are two types of players: the ones who use the disparaging remarks as a distraction, and the ones who use it to shut everyone up.
If you were at that game Wednesday, you know in which category McAllister resides.

He quieted the naysayers with every stolen base, every play he made in the field and every run he scored. And as he crossed the plate to score the game-winning run, not a sound could be heard from the North Hall faithful.

Those fans might have been the ones with all the jokes, but McAllister was the one who got the last laugh. And that performance just added fuel to the already heated rivalry between Gainesville and North Hall.

If all that happened in a non-contact sport, I can’t wait to see what transpires when these two schools meet on the soccer field later this week.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at
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