By PETER DiGIOVANNI
Tonight showcases one of the best rivalries in District 1 when West Chester Rustin hosts crosstown rival West Chester Henderson. It is a friendly rivalry, but that does not mean that the kids or coaches go at it any easier.
The recent history of the series has favored Rustin and head coach Mike St. Clair. The Knights have not lost to Henderson in four years. Two seasons ago, the Knights, besides beating Henderson in the regular season, knocked Joe Walsh and his team out of the Class AAAA District 1 playoffs in a great game at Rustin.
The hurt at Henderson has run deep. The West Chester school that prides itself as being the real West Chester school does not take kindly to losing to the Knights, who forever will be considered the new kids on the block.
After last year’s close loss to Rustin, Walsh said to a few people on the field that it will be somebody else’s job to beat Rustin, with the longtime coach retiring after last season. That job has gone to Steve Mitten, who has been around for all these West Chester wars.
But now, Mitten is the head man and with both teams at 5-1, it is time for Henderson to assert itself and finally take out the Knights. The road only gets tougher for Henderson, as Coatesville and Downingtown East loom in the next few weeks for the Warriors.
Not only does Henderson need this game for the Warriors pride, they need it for Class AAA District 1 playoff points. That’s not a typo. Henderson is now a Class AAA school and if the enrollment numbers were done right by the PIAA, Rustin and West Chester East would be Class AAA teams also.
But that is a story for another day. The story today is that again Henderson goes into the Rustin game with a giant chip on its shoulder. They would love to get the gigantic Rustin monkey off their backs finally and forever.
For his part, St. Clair never really talks about the game. No, “Saint” and his group has just gone out, been quiet and kicked tail when it mattered. Henderson has noticed. After last season’s loss, I never saw a more distraught group of kids and coaches after a regular season loss.
So, while it may be friendlier than the Downingtown rivalry or the Unionville-Kennett tussle, it is just as intense, if not more so.
The hitting should be fierce tonight with both teams being very physical and loving to run the football.
What this game really is is a treat for area fans. Two very good, clean high school programs going after each other with none of the nonsense you may see on other gridirons.
Enjoy, and as always, let the best team win.