The romance of a good rivalry brings butterflies to the stomach. During the football season, intense loyalty and equal skill levels make for exciting games. For players and spectators alike, adrenaline flows and interest heightens. Sometimes bringing about unforeseen results.
Historically, Walton and Delhi schools have been nursing a longstanding rivalry on and off the field. According to Robert Russell in his recent history of the State University College of Technology at Delhi, the two schools made history when they first met on the gridiron more than 100 years ago.
Russell related an excerpt from article from the Delaware Republican on Nov. 5, 1892, that announced “A football game will take place on the Delhi fair grounds Saturday, November 12, at 2:30 p.m. between the Delaware Academy football eleven and the Walton High School eleven...It is the first regular game of football ever played in the county ... Several doctors with ample supplies of cotton, stretchers, etc., will be present.”
At a recent football game between the two contenders, cheering came from two bulging crowds centered on opposing sides of the field. But a thin row of onlookers wrapped around the outside of the field could be seen linking the two sides.
“We don’t know which side to sit on anymore, so we sit here at the end of the field,” Jan Miller said.
Miller and her daughter, Brenda Kilpatrick, were watching the Walton/Delhi football game together. “I graduated from Walton Central School, but Brenda and her two brothers graduated from Delaware Academy,” Miller explained. “Then, Brenda married a Walton man, and so now we come to the Walton side to cheer.”
Miller was cheering for her two grandsons, Austin Kilmer and Dillon Kilpatrick, playing with the Walton team.
“It’s odd cheering on the Walton side when I was use to sitting on the Delhi side,” Kilpatrick said. “Seems funny not sitting on the hill. But it’s a good rivalry and we like coming to the games.”
Ron McAdams and his buddy Jim Bell have been attending Walton/Delhi games since the 1950s. “All my life, I’ve been a Walton fan,” McAdams said, wearing a bright orange sweatshirt. “I got this sweatshirt in 1996, when the boys went to state.”
McAdams played football at WCS from 1953 to 1956. Jim Bell played in 1953. “The games are always close,” said McAdams. “The teams are not lopsided. The rivalry is a good rivalry. Clean. It’s good hard football. Always has been.”
McAdams and Bell recalled 1953. “We had cheerleaders back then,” said McAdams.
“In 1953, our Walton team won every game, and the other teams didn’t score against us,” said Bell. But what could have been a glorious season was cut short by tragedy. “The last two games had to be canceled because of a polio outbreak,” he recalled.
“The Walton team had a good following,” McAdams said. “Playing Delaware Academy was always a challenge because our team strengths were even. When we played Delhi, I prayed more.”
Bell laughed and added, “We’ve been coming to the Walton/Delhi games all these years. The only time Ron misses a game is if he is so sick he can’t come.”
Up in the stands, dressed in black Walton football jerseys emblazoned with “78,” were Melanie Hren and Roland Finch. “My son, Jeremy, is No. 78,” Hren said. “We like coming to the games. I’m more into the sport now that my son plays. And the rivalry makes it lively. I like to cheer for the guys.”
“Yes, Melanie can cheer pretty loud,” Finch said.
On the field, the players dash and rumble and collide. Orange and black jerseys intermix with maroon and white jersey. The uncomplaining football gets jostled and thrown around.
On the other side of the field, the prominent colors of white and maroon can be seen on Delhi spectators.
Martin Mattice was watching his son, Kenz Mattice, play on the Delhi team. “Kenz has been playing since pee-wee ball,” Mattice said. “The team practices from 3 to 5 p.m. every day except weekends generally.”
For Mattice, the rivalry game is a highlight of the season. “I look forward to the Walton/Delhi game,” he said. “Excitement is built into the game. It’s no wonder Kenz loves the game. He is even interested in studying athletic coaching or medicine when he goes to college.”
Though the games can get rough, Mattice noted that the rivalry doesn’t always carry over off the field.
“Now that Kenz is a senior, he joins other team players at the Rainbow Lodge on wing night,” Mattice said. “Seniors from the both the Delhi and Walton teams meet there. Though they are rival teams, the players are friends.”
On the hill sloping down into the football field sat the Hadley women. “Coming to the Walton/Delhi game is family tradition,” said Kayla Hadley, whose mother, Donna Hadley, and aunt Wendy Hadley agreed. “It’s good competition. We’ve bantered back and forth for years and years.”
Donna Hadley is a bus driver at Delaware Academy and knows the players well. Wendy Hadley graduated from DA in 2008 and married Jon, a Delhi fan who hasn’t missed a game in 21 years. “When we lived in Ohio for a year, Jon would fly home to watch the game,” Wendy Hadley said. “He even flew home from Italy for a game.”
“The Walton/Delhi game makes my stomach twirl,” said Jon Hadley, in between taking pictures of the game. “The rivalry makes for a hard-hitting game, but these guys help each other up.” Hadley takes up to 100 pictures per game for the school website.
Unlike in 1953, there are no cheerleaders today. But Colin Spangenberg heartily sports the Delhi bulldog mascot costume. The larger-than-life fuzzy bulldog roams the field, eliciting positive encouragement from the Delhi side.
The feistiness of a good rivalry prompts Delhi junior Dustin Dougherty to bellow from the sidelines, “Let’s go boys.”
Dougherty is taking a year off from playing football for Delaware Academy. “I know what it’s like on the field,” said Dougherty. “It’s intense. Walton is the best team to play.”
The anomaly of Delaware Academy Superintendent Jason Thomson, a Walton graduate, makes for some cease-fires in this rivalry. At the game, administrators and students came together in support of anti-bullying. “Our logo was ‘Rivals Stand United Against Bullying,’” Thomson said. A couple hundred members from both communities performed a mob flash dance during half time.
“The rivalry is alive and well,” said Delaware Academy Superintendent Jason Thomson. “The teams are evenly matched. The winner gets bragging rights. But we have a mutual respect for one another. The coaches, from both teams, Jim Hoover and Dave Kelly, are special people who inspire good playing.”