OHIO VALLEY — Scholars and philosophers argue we are more connected than divided – with the possible exception of politics and football rivalries.
Take, for example, the series between the Gallia Academy Blue Devils and the Point Pleasant High School Big Blacks, a game which has often been referred to as the Battle of the Bridge or the Battle for the Bridge, depending on who you ask. Tonight (Friday) the two teams face off again for the first time since 2016 at Memorial Field in Gallipolis. For those keeping score, according to records kept by Ohio Valley Publishing, the Blue Devils lead the series 40-37-5. However, the Big Blacks have won the last three match-ups.
This will be the 83rd meeting between the two schools with memories on both sides of the river that go beyond the final scores – whether those be memorable pep rallies or a reported fight in the late 1960’s that is said to have put the series on hiatus until the late 1970’s.
Part of those memories, for many years at least, was the presentation of the Rotary trophy which is estimated to have had its beginnings in 1977. A joint project between the Point Pleasant and Gallipolis Rotary clubs, the Rotary president of the losing team would present the trophy to the Rotary president of the winning team, who then presented it to the winning coaches and players. However, for some reason, the trophy went missing or was accidentally misplaced, possibly when Gallia Academy moved into its new facilities, according to the best guess of some Rotarians. The tradition also became forgotten by some Rotary members and it fell by the wayside, though not everything forgotten is lost.
This year, PVH commissioned a new Rotary trophy from local artist and businessman, Brett Little, of Gallia County. The idea to create a large trophy in the shape of a bridge was born out of brainstorming sessions between Gabe Roush, ATC, sports medicine manager at PVH and Tracy Call, director of community relations for PVH. Roush said the trophy needed to be something memorable and in short, “legit.” Call presented the idea to Little who came up with an idea to recreate the Silver Memorial Bridge as the trophy. The Battle of the Bridge will now literally be, a “battle FOR the bridge.”
Certainly, the new Rotary trophy will not be something easily lost or misplaced, or even something that will fit in an average trophy case. It’s six-feet long and though it can be removed from its stand, while placed upon it, the trophy is 38-inches high. On one end of the bridge is a “Welcome to Ohio” sign and on the other a sign stating “Welcome to West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful.” On the front of the trophy is the Rotary emblem, along with the “Battle of the Bridge” plaque with team logos for the Blue Devils and Big Blacks facing front. The plan is to place small placards on the trophy each year the games are played, denoting the date, who won and the score. The school that wins will get to keep the “traveling trophy” until the next game.
Tim Martin, president of the Point Pleasant Rotary, said it’s possible the old trophy, described as a wooden mallet, was lost due to its small size but this new trophy will be difficult to overlook.
“This will not be easy to lose,” Martin joked. “It’s (the trophy) going to create some good fun and competition…we’re (Rotarians) looking forward to this.”
Rotarian Steven Littlepage, also of the Point Pleasant Club and a PPHS alumnus, recalled some of the history of the game. He said he believed there were no football games played between the two schools from 1969-1976, stating there was reportedly a “horrible fight” in November 1968 in relation to that year’s game and the two schools basically did not play one another in any sports, except for one.
“I did play against Gallipolis in one sport…golf. Can you imagine? We had clubs,” Littlepage joked.
For all intents and purposes, a bridge does connect the two communities but is it the only connection? Not so, states the Rotarians from both sides of the river.
“Just for the record, there is no rivalry between the two Rotary clubs,” Martin said. “We work together.”
Littlepage agreed, explaining “the whole idea behind the trophy presentation (in the 1970’s) was to reestablish not only relationships between the two towns but the two high schools and the bad blood that existed in the 1960’s by the 1970’s was gone pretty much.”
The trophy was unveiled at PVH’s Wellness Center on Wednesday, following the Point Pleasant Rotary Club’s monthly luncheon held at the hospital. On hand to accept the trophy from PVH CEO Jeff Noblin, were both Martin and Gallipolis Rotary President A.J. Stack.
“Our Rotary clubs would like it (the game) to be more of a friendly competition that encourages goodwill and connection, I mean, it’s just a river…some people would argue that, but for us, especially for us, and with Rotary International, and in the local Rotary clubs, we are all about the same thing, which is bettering the community, bettering the lives of people in the community and bettering the world.”
Stack, who is not originally from the area, said he was of course aware of the sports competition between the two schools but he, like many other local Rotarians had either forgotten about, or did not know there was a Rotary trophy for the football game. He said when Martin called him with the idea of returning the trophy tradition, he, along with the members of the Gallipolis club, were excited to be a part of it.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity to lift up the work that both our Rotary clubs do,” Stack said.
The Rotarians will have the trophy on display under their tailgating tent prior to the game for those who want to stop by and show support for their team – whether they are cheering on the Blue Devils or Big Blacks. All are welcome.
Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. tonight.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.