Your alarm clock rings, but your eyes have been open for the past fifteen minutes, at least. If you are a cheerleader or basketball player, your stomach is in your mouth from nervousness. While you dress, your radio is already talking about it, and so are your parents. You get to school and everyone is talking about it, probably continuing a conversation on the topic from the night before. Class isn't really class today, its eight hours of "arts and humanities," which happens to be completely void of any humanity. Its a think tank with the sole purpose of compiling every rumor or every shortcoming you can come up with about a player or cheerleader on the other team and painting it on the biggest piece of poster board you can get your hands on. You may have close friends from the other school on any other of the 364 days of the year, but not today. Loyalties lie only with the colors painted on your gym floor. This is Hazard vs. Perry.
Recently I was browsing through Bluegrass Rivals, and I came upon a thread that read, "Rivalries that have disappeared." I glanced past Pikeville/Belfry, Scott County/Oldham County, and Clay/Rockcastle. Just at the bottom right corner of the page, something caught my eye and I almost turned over in my chair. Hazard-Perry was listed. WHAT? What do you mean this rivalry has disappeared? True, it has been several years since I've been to a Commodore/Bulldog match-up, but I beg to differ. There is just something special about a spirited game between these two high schools. Lets be honest folks. This fabled rivalry, to this day dies very hard.
I see people who are not from this county write about Hazard-Perry, and formerly, Hazard-MC Napier, and I just have to chuckle. Of course you wouldn't understand if you aren't from here, and especially if you've never been apart of it. I am talking about generations and generations of deep seeded, pure, unabashed hatred between these schools. It doesn't really matter what sport it is, but in my opinion, basketball is the most prevalent. We all know how us mountain folk love our basketball. I say hatred loosely, because that's what I can best describe it as. It's not a hatred borne between the actual atheletes, or students, it's just purely between the two persona's. This rivalry is, at times, larger than life, and in a small town, that is something HUGE. I have to admit, even when compared to my days in high school, a mere 8 years ago, the rivalry has calmed down a substantial amount, but it is far from non-existent.
When Memorial Gym was first built, I believe it was 1951, it served as the gymnasium for the surrounding area. Many high schools lacked a place to hold games, so everyone played there. It remains basically unchanged to this day. I live close to it, and I will tell you, it is a COMPLETE nightmare during ballgames. I can only imagine it during the days when it was the only gym around. When I cheered for PCC, I always enjoyed games inside of Mem. There is always something special to be said about a gymnasium that holds so many historic moments. It is likely that many of you who are reading this had Grandparents, followed by Parents who played basketball, cheered or was a spectator in that gym, from either side. To me, that is the stuff of pure magic.
Players like Johnny Cox and Jim Rose heralded in a new era of basketball for Hazard High School. One that included a fierce need to win and intense and driven competition. Cox, a 6'4 guard from HHS, later led the University of Kentucky basketball team to an NCAA championship in 1958. Jim Rose was a two time all state player, and an all American while at HHS. He later went on to become a star at WKU, leading the Hill-toppers in 1971 to a final four appearance after defeating Kentucky. He was also the 28th pick in the second round of the NBA draft, taken by the Boston Celtics. Hazard High School has won two KSHAA State Championships, one in 1932, and one in 1955. Hazard has a rich history, aside from basketball. Tradition plays a major role here, and legacies remain an integral part of bulldog pride.
M.C. Napier, opened in 1953, was the product of consolidating several county schools. These would include Robinson, Hardburly, and Combs. With this consolidation, came a considerable ability to join together local talents and finally be able to give the notorious, and already well seasoned, HHS some man to man competition. Somewhere in that time frame, a fierce rivalry was born and has yet to end. Even as MC Napier, and Dilce Combs were consolidated into Perry County Central, the competition raged on, some say even larger than before. 1995 ushered in a new era of the ever unfolding saga. Perry County Central and MC Napier combined have a total of fifteen 14th region titles. Perry Central and M.C. Napier has had no shortage of stand out players.Glenn Napier, Denny Fugate, and Ben Bowling are still known as some of the best players to ever come from Eastern Kentucky.
Hazard wins the 14th region in 76. My Step-Dad is pictured.
My Uncle, Tim Jones and David Napier. "77" 14th Region Champs.
Growing up, I always remember listening to these games, or even attending them myself. My mother is a M.C. Napier alum, and a former Navajo cheerleader. So are my Aunts, and my Uncle Timothy was a ball player during 1970's. The glory days. I have been seated around the coffee table at my grandmother's many times, listening to stories retold about the dynamic, and sometimes hostile rivalry times of the 1970's.
When Hazard beat Napier in (presumably) 76, a radio dedication was made to Coach Albert Combs (of Napier) from the Bulldogs, on WSGS the following day. The song was Uncle Albert, by Paul McCartney. "We're so sorry, Uncle Albert, we're so sorry if we caused you any pain. We're so sorry, Uncle Albert, but there's no one left at home, and I believe I'm gonna rain." A clever and undeniably funny twist on beating the Navajos. I am sure it was also one that struck absolute anger in the hearts of many Napier fans.
My mother and Aunt are the two standing.
These stories also included tales that a funeral wreath was anonymously hung on a Napier ball players old De Soto prior to an upcoming game. There is also an old legend that MC Napier was put on lock down after a band of Hazard athletes journeyed to hollowed ground at Napier, to wait in the parking lot. According to myth, after some taunting, and show boating, a riot almost ensued where the doors were locked, and every window in the school was opened, accompanied with heckles, boos, and various middle fingers. The buses were delayed and school wasn't able to let out until the players left, in fear of an all out riot. This was the late 70's. Imagine if you tried that now. It would make national news.
Fast forward to the 2000's when the rivalry was hitting a heated peak. When I say heated, I mean heated.....and somewhat personal. I have witnessed capacity crowds at John Combs Arena, or as many people like to call it, (hilariously) "The Punkin Palace". I have witnessed people turned away at the historic Memorial Gym due to fire hazards and overflowing audiences. Student sections were unrestrained and out for blood. This is where the subject starts to get a little bit touchy. Let me try to not step on any toes. Ahh, the pep sections. Yes, it was brutal. Name calling, signs about short comings. All the stops were made. ON BOTH SIDES. Most of it was all in good fun, and after the games were over, we would go out and leave with each other. Many had friends from both sides, that's just how it is in a small town. You always knew during the game, however, that you just don't associate with each other. Hazard's fans started to gain a reputation state wide for their colorful, and very unique pep section. I recall them dressed as smurfs, mimes, and fat cheerleaders. Both sides were master hecklers, and if you weren't careful, even the steeliest basketball players would be susceptible to being rattled.
My senior year, which would have been 2007-2008, an incident occurred during tournament time that would change the face of the rivalry for years to come. This game had been long anticipated and fuses were short on both sides. Long story short, both pep sections were in a sort of Chinese-standoff, that ended with them both emptying out on the court, various physical altercations and someone getting the business end of a police tazer. It was madness. It was anarchy. It was CRAZY. Even I had gotten swallowed up in the sea of red and packed out on half court, where I was grabbed by a state police officer and told to "get the hell back to my seat." The security at the game was insane. Almost all of the Hazard Police Department and 10 or more State boys. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a prison rodeo. You're scared, intrigued and excited all in one. The result was police armed escorts to the parking lot, and the Neace-Gorman park being shut down for fear of fights.Yes, only in Perry County.
PCC's 2008 Pep Section. 14th Region.
In 2008, The Hazard Board of Education voted not to play Perry Central unless required by the KHSAA. The rivalry was deemed unsafe. Obviously. It's been that way for YEARS. You can read the full article here: Hazard-Perry Rivalry Many arguments have been started over the years about the rivalry. It's a very real thing here in Perry County. It's almost like from birth you are drilled into the fact you're either a Bulldog, or a Commodore. It's okay though, people like it that way. It gives us something to look forward to during all the various sporting seasons, and also something argue to about over social media, or message boards. It's good fun, and here in the mountains, its basically everything.
As generations come and go, and take part in this epic saga, it's easy to forget that we are all from the same piece of ground. We are all from Perry County, and win or lose, we should support each other. It always makes me happy to see a Perry team go to the state tournament, whether it be Hazard, Perry, or Buckhorn. As long as we are having positive attention brought to this area, it's always a good thing. I can also understand why the rivalry could also bring "negative" attention. I remember we all got called a bunch of hoodlums (hazard and perry included) on the message boards, which we thought was hilarious. I recall telling my mother that our generation hadn't done anything worse than what those who came before us. If anything, we were more tame. In my opinion, if you are from Hazard or Perry Central, taking part of this rivalry is almost a right-of-passage. You're expected to show your school spirit. Could we be a little more classy about it? Probably, but that's no fun. Or at least, in my day, it wasn't. I think now the generations at hand are doing a much better job than we did at bringing a level of civilization to the court. That too, it something very admirable.
Finally, I must add, YES, I am a county girl. I wasn't raised in the
city, even though I reside there now. I grew up in Lost Creek, far away
from Hazard high school and I attended PCC from 2004-2008. I love Perry
Central, but living where I do, I have also fostered a new found respect
for Hazard, and their school systems. Even when I was in high school,
some of my closest and dearest friends were bulldogs. I had boyfriends
that played sports there. The rivalry was just a fun way to get everyone
involved in something that was bigger than ourselves, and we loved it. I
still hold it close to my heart to this day, and even though I may not
attend games anymore, you can be sure I am sitting in the floor
somewhere in my house, hunkered down listening to the radio when they
are about to tip off.
So whether you are a Navajo, a Commodore, or a Bulldog, I think it's important to always remember the past. It's important to take pride in this rivalry because it's as much a part of our history as anything else. We're known around Kentucky for it, and people from surrounding counties even come to watch show downs between these two teams. My husband is a JBS Alumni and he knew basically just as much about it as I do. One reason. IT'S FAMOUS. It's FABLED. It's basically IMMORTAL in Eastern Kentucky. If that doesn't make you proud, whatever team you're for, I'm not sure what will.