WGH, Badger rivalry based on respect

During the course of many years, rivalries tend to grow an animosity between the two teams involved, no matter where in the world they are located.

In this area alone, Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans clash heads on a consistent basis. At the high school level, there’s not a lot of love lost between Bristol and Maplewood in northern Trumbull County, Champion and Lakeview in the state Route 305 rivalry, Ursuline and Cardinal Mooney in the Holy War and Liberty and Girard in the Battle of Belmont, among others.

Very rarely does one find a rivalry based more on respect, which is probably one of the many reasons the Warren G. Harding-Badger soccer rivalry is so refreshing.

For the past six seasons, the two schools from completely different backgrounds have faced each other, and the Braves own a six-match unbeaten streak over the Raiders, who have an enrollment figure almost five-times greater than the Braves (670 boys at Harding to 119 at Badger). These numbers feed into the inner city versus farmers-type matchups that could lead to a heated rivalry.

The matches certainly have the feel of such a match.

“Every time we play them, it’s a pretty physical match,” said Badger senior goalkeeper Jared Meikle following the Braves’ 2-0 win this past Saturday. “It’s probably one of our closest games of the year. I think we’re pretty even. No one team is very much better than the other.”

Despite all of this, the two teams don’t despise each other – instead, they both have a mutual respect for each other.

First-year Badger coach Justin Deraway has been a part of the Braves’ coaching staff throughout the six-season run between the teams and has seen the improvements made during that span. Harding has managed to utilize the natural athletes the school has, and the Raiders have developed a more technical game instead of a traditional long-ball style that involves punting the ball down the field and having the forwards chase it down for offense.

“Harding is a great team,” Deraway said. “They’ve improved so much in the last five years, and it’s been a contest that the teams always look forward to.”

Harding coach Tilden Tatebe also realizes the merits of facing a school like Badger in soccer, although the school does have such a distinct size advantage.

The Braves are five years removed from back-to-back regional tournament appearances, and they are a traditional powerhouse in the Northeastern Athletic Conference. In terms of individual success, five Braves have received all-state honors since 2005. Badger has tradition in the sport of soccer that the Raiders lack up to this point.

Because of this success, Tatebe holds a great deal of esteem toward both Deraway and Deraway’s predecessor, Karl Martin. Martin was a member of the coaching staff for more than 20 years and was the head coach for 12 seasons.

“Badger’s an excellent soccer team.,” Harding coach Tilden Tatebe said. “Justin’s done a really good job, and Karl (Martin) was a legend in Badger. It’s hard to live up to the standards that Karl set here. Justin’s off to a great start. I wish him the best.”

If these two programs continue to play each other every year, they could go the route of traditional rivalries, but for now, the mutual respect is a breath of fresh air.