Wellston cheerleaders pose for picture before the last Wellston-Jackson rivalry game.
Wellston cheerleaders pose for picture before the last Wellston-Jackson rivalry game.

Witnessing the End of a Tradition

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A storied rivalry has come to an end.  After 106 years, the annual season opening rivalry game between the Jackson Ironmen and the Wellston Golden Rockets is no more.  While this matchup is one of the most historic high school football rivalries in the state of Ohio, many people don’t actually see how much effort is put in by the communities behind the rivalry.

Myself and others from Gridiron Glory had the privilege of going into Jackson and witnessing the last chapter in this rivalry, and that community effort from both towns was apparent throughout the whole game.

When we arrived at Alumni Stadium on Saturday well ahead of last Saturday’s game, the atmosphere was already starting to come to life.  Volunteers were arriving to set up concessions, take tickets, sell commemorative mugs and programs, and help get the stadium ready for a standing room only sized crowd.  The community effort and hospitality that we witnessed was unmatched, especially between two schools that are supposed to be rivals.

We witnessed the Wellston Golden Rocket Marching Band rehearse a conjoined performance with Jackson’s Marching Ironmen.  We watched as the Wellston and Jackson fire departments brought in their ladder trucks to hoist banners representing each meeting between the teams high above the stadium, and sell raffle tickets to the community members arriving at the gate, raffling off the banners, with the proceeds going to the respective school on the banner.

Also present Saturday was a staple of these two communities, Michael’s Ice Cream, which has been around in Jackson since 1909 and celebrates 110 years of service to the community this year.  We got a chance to see them make their famous “Bubble” ice cream treat, made with a house chocolate sauce, French Vanilla ice cream, marshmallow cream, and freshly roasted peanuts crushed into a fine crumble and sprinkled on top, served in a commemorative mug with Jackson and Wellston helmets on the front.  If you ever find yourself in Jackson, Ohio, it will definitely be worth your time to stop at Michael’s to try one.

As we talked to community members from both communities throughout the day, the stories that came to light were impressive.  Over the years, families have been pitted against one another in this rivalry, and friends have played against friends. According to community members on both sides there is a good-natured relationship between community members of the two towns that sit about eight miles apart, but when the players hit the field, the passion of the rivalry comes out.

This year, this game took a deeper meaning with the communities than it ever has, and the two towns are sad to see it go.  When talking to fans sitting in the stands, they said that their first memories of football stem from past games in this rivalry, and that they will miss opening the season playing against the team from across the county.  The crowd during the game was electric, rooting on their teams, but they all knew in their hearts that it would be a game to remember, regardless if their team came out on top or not.

This rivalry will be sorely missed in the stories and lore that surround Southeastern Ohio football.  Of course this game has meaning to the players that take part in it, but to the communities behind the game, it means all the more.  With this matchup coming to an end, these communities will look for a new beginning to each football season, but will always remember the heated battles with one another on the gridiron, and the effort put in by each town to make this game possible.