With every second ticking down, the fans grew louder. Raiders students slouched their faces to their palms as the Lancer fanatics braced themselves for the buzzer. After four quarters and an extra overtime period, East claimed the 2006 Sunflower League championship over their bitter rivals, Shawnee Mission South.
Among the fans sat Jake Caldwell, a fifth grader at the time. Wide-eyed and wearing his favorite Lancer fast break club T-shirt, he watched as the rowdy East fans flooded the court after the final seconds passed.
“It was one of the craziest game I’ve been to,” Caldwell said. “The place was off the walls and just completely hectic. After watching the fans storm the court I couldn’t wait to be part of the action.”
Seven years later, Caldwell will look to lead his team to victory over their rivals, but instead of wearing Lancer blue, he will be donning gold and green.
“It is kind of weird looking back and now being on the South side of it,” said Caldwell, who decided to attend South instead of East in order to participate in their engineering program. “Early in elementary school I would’ve never imagined going to South because of the rivalry. Over the years I met more South players through camps and decided to make the switch and I don’t regret it one bit.”
The Raiders are undefeated this season and have a legitimate shot at the state title. Despite being demoted to the 5A class, SM South has not lost a game all season and are the second best team in the state of Kansas, with East right behind them at third, according to MetroSports.
“They will probably be one of the most talented teams we play this year,” East senior guard Vance Wentz said. “South has a very balanced team. They’re a really good team with a lot of talented guards and big men. Really any of their five starters could lead in scoring on any given night. They can all shoot it and get to the rim.”
This Friday’s game will be the 108th meeting between the two teams with the series tied 52-52. Along with Sunflower title on the line, the game will not lack any big storylines.
Last year the Raiders came to East and had a 24-point blowout victory. The game at SM South was much more competitive, going into double overtime with Schneider hitting key threes at the end of regulation and the first overtime to extend the game. But in the end, East still could not grind out the victory and the Raiders pulled away late.
“We all really want this win against South,” senior forward Zach Schneider said. “Personally, I’ve only beat South only one time in my three years on varsity. It would be great to get back at them and beat them one more time.”
The players aren’t the only ones that will be hungry for a Lancer victory with several fans looking for payback against their least favorite team. One of them will be senior Patrick Blackburn, who despises Raiders.
“I hate South,” said Blackburn. “There is no school I dislike more than Shawnee Mission South. They know it and they don’t like us either. The football games against them are intense but you can tell the fans get more involved in the game. This game is all about revenge from losing to them last year.”
With only a little over five miles separating the two schools, the SM South rivalry usually brings the rowdiness in both fans. Vance’s father, Dave Wentz, who played for the Lancers in the 1980s, cherishes every moment of the rivalry.
“It’s really something special for a high school kid,” Dave said. “Back then the community between was more meshed together through summer teams and just different boundaries. Despite how much we interacted with the kids, the games were still extremely intense.”
Before stricter crowd control rules by the administration, Dave recalls several instances where fans would brawl and even throw marbles onto the basketball court. At one point, the police force escorted both teams to and from the games for their own safety.
“We never really felt threatened, we actually thought it was funny and had fun with it,” Dave said. “You never know when you’ll play against a crowd like it. There’s nothing like a gym packed with hundreds of fans and just being in the middle of the atmosphere.”
Of course, with more administrative supervision, the rivalry’s extreme rowdiness has decreased but has not lost any of its luster for those who play in it.
“There’s nothing that could even compare to the East-South game,” Caldwell said. “Crowd-wise, we’ve had big games but there’s so much intensity between the teams that it’s just one of a kind.”
With what should be a packed East gymnasium, bragging rights and the Sunflower title on the line, this Friday’s showdown between two of the best teams in the state of Kansas should prove to be a fun one.
“We’re both winning a lot of games and having really strong seasons,” Vance said. “With the way we’re both playing it will good one. We’re going to approach it like any other game and do what we do best.”