After much deliberation and consultation with his wife and friends, Jim Davie made a decision in 1970 that would change his life. And, at least in the short term, make it a lot more difficult.
He left as the football coach at Mulvane to become the football coach at Derby. It meant a move of about four miles – maybe three as the crow flies – but it was, Davie remembers, a monumental change because of one factor: Derby and Mulvane hated one another.
The relationship is much more sedate now. In fact, both current coaches – Derby’s Brandon Clark and Mulvane’s Dave Fennewald, who lead their teams into semifinal playoff action in Classes 6A and 4A tonight – speak freely about their mutual respect. About their similar offseason conditioning programs and about how they send their teams against one another in friendly seven-on-seven competition during the summers.
Clark and his family occasionally have dinner at Luciano’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Mulvane. Fennewald said he loves all of the fast-food choices in Derby.
Shortly after the highly-successful Davie left Mulvane for Derby, doubling his salary in the process, he wouldn’t have dared go back to Mulvane for a meal.
“Some of the Mulvane kids were really upset with me,” Davie said. “We had visitors to our new house in Derby almost every night there for that first month or two. They threw trash in my yard, things like that. I started to get pretty tired of it.”
For 28 years, from 1947 through 1974, Derby and Mulvane played football against one another. It was almost always the first game of the season and it almost always set the tone for what was to come.
“I got to Mulvane in 1992, so the rivalry was over,” Fennewald said. “But I hear our old-timers talk about it, how that game used to make or break the whole season.”
As a 1973 Derby graduate, I know what the rivalry with Mulvane was like. Let’s just say there are probably still some egg stains on some Mulvane property that I had something to do with.
But almost everybody who grew up in those towns from that era was involved in hijinks.
“We’d go steal their Panther from in front of their school and they’d come and steal our Wildcat,” said John Moses, a 1969 Mulvane grad and football player. “That Panther was pretty heavy to get into the back of a car.”
I think Moses just incriminated himself. Being that it’s more than 40 years later, though, it’s probably OK.
Derby and Mulvane were fellow Chisholm Trail League members for most of their rivalry years, before Derby left for the Ark Valley League. The Panthers and Wildcats played their last game in 1974, when Mulvane won 20-19.
Derby leads the all-time series 17-12. The two teams first met in 1928, then went 19 years before playing again.
Moses believes the feud during his era was fueled by love. He says one of his Mulvane teammates and the Derby quarterback at the time were attempting to date the same girl.
“I’m pretty sure that’s how it started,” Moses said.
Others, though, believe the animosity stemmed solely from the proximity of the towns and the strong desire to beat the other guys.
“Actually, the guys from Derby that I played against my senior year were guys I also played baseball with in the summer,” said former Mulvane running back Jim Crawford, a 1969 graduate who played some at Kansas State. “I got along with the Derby guys. I don’t think it was as much the football players who caused the trouble as it was everybody else throwing full bottles of root beer into an open Mustang convertible.”
Derby dominated Mulvane from 1955-62, winning all eight meetings.
But Mulvane coach Harold Brandenberg was about to do something about that. In seven years at Mulvane, Brandenberg’s teams were 55-8. And after losing to Derby in 1961 and 1962, he was fed up.
“That was the biggest rivalry that either school had in those days,” Brandenberg said. “But it had been so long since Mulvane had beaten Derby that it was losing something.”
In 1963, Mulvane broke through with a 19-14 win. The Wildcats won the next year, too, and the year after that. Mulvane was a joyous place while the fine folks of Derby stewed.
“Our principal at Mulvane at the time was John Ireland,” Brandenberg said. “And he was in Wyoming working on his Doctorate at the time when we finally beat Derby. We called him after the game in ’63 and told him about the game and he just said, ‘Oh, you never beat Derby. Are you guys on the sauce?’ ”
Debbie Francis was a senior at Derby in 1969 when the cheerleaders at both schools decided on a détente. The Mulvane cheerleaders picked up the Derby cheerleaders in Derby, and they paraded around town to show togetherness.
“We were in our cheerleader outfits and everything,” Francis said. “I think there were actually a couple of cars because there were quite a few of us. We rode down Main Street and along Nelson Drive in Derby to show we could get along.”
Then the cheerleaders headed to Mulvane to do the same. Only there was a twist.
“Their cheerleaders stopped the cars and told us to get out,” Francis said. “We’re like, ‘What?’ And they called us suckers and kicked us out of the cars.”
They managed to get a ride back to Derby, shamed and devoted to vengeance.
The Derby-Mulvane rivalry didn’t cool until they stopped playing football against one another.
Tonight, both teams will play huge playoff games, hatchets long since buried. In fact, Fennewald and Clark wish one another well.