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updated: 3/28/2013 3:31 PM

Palatine, Fremd renew rivalry the right way

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  • Andrew Clingerman of Palatine, right, edges out Fremd's Nick Vucovich in the 800-meter run at the Palatine Relays last spring. Both figure to play key roles for their teams, both of which embrace the upcoming dual meet between the programs.

      Andrew Clingerman of Palatine, right, edges out Fremd's Nick Vucovich in the 800-meter run at the Palatine Relays last spring. Both figure to play key roles for their teams, both of which embrace the upcoming dual meet between the programs.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Jeff Newton
Daily Herald Correspondent

Former Palatine boys track coach Fred Miller still remembers when Fremd High School came into existence.

"In the 1960's they came to be, and it wasn't long before it was a good rivalry with Palatine," Miller recalls.

The two schools are separated by just 4.8 miles, and the rivalry between the track and field teams at Palatine and Fremd reflects that narrow gap.

In dual meet competitions Fremd has had a slight edge, and Mid-Suburban League titles also go the way of the Vikings, with 12. The Pirates have 5.

But when the rivalry was renewed last year after a six-year layoff, Palatine regained control -- at least for a year.

Last season, in early April, the long-standing dual meet rivalry between Fremd and Palatine that originated in the 1960's began again after a short layoff. Both schools agreed on the location, the format and even the trophy. Rather unique for a rivalry -- but not for this one.

"We sat down one summer and discussed how we would bring this rivalry back," said long-time Fremd coach Jim Aikens. "Immediately we agreed that it was the right thing to do. We just needed to agree on the format."

Having a two-team dual meet to start the season typically does not bring out the best in either side. Both teams are more interested in getting ready for the long grind of the outdoor campaign instead of a relatively unimportant dual.

So, that was the first element of the agreement -- both teams had to agree to bring out their best lineups and run the meet as if it counted in team standings or for an MSL title.

"You could say it's about bragging rights, but it's a little more than that," said former Fremd coach Rich Bokor. "A lot of these kids went to grade school together and raced together in middle school. They're friends, but on the track they want to prove who is best."

Once the particulars were organized, all that was left was to create a tangible reward to the winner, in the form of a community trophy. Palatine athletic director Jerry Dobbs created the trophy that the winner of the meet will hold for one year. The trophy features a gold track baton with a red cast running shown on one side, and a green cast running shown on the other. A small plaque will be placed on the trophy each year featuring the final score.

"It's really a nice symbol of the rivalry and something the kids can look at every day," said Palatine coach John Nalley. "We want to build a small case to house the trophy and we likely will after the renovations at the school this coming summer."

Palatine earned the rivalry win last year, and it came with plenty of drama. As most of these meets between the Pirates and Vikings have ended, the meet came down to the final race of the meet -- the 1,600 relay.

"That race is really a staple of this rivalry," Aikens said. "I can remember one of the first times we raced against (Palatine). Both teams started running from sideline to sideline cheering on the runners, lining the straightaway every time a runner would come to the line. It just adds to the experience."

As the final race lined up, a runner from Fremd was called for a false start, eliminating the Vikings from the final event. As it turned out, Palatine held a slim 71-70 lead into the final race. Due to the DQ, Palatine won the meet. But they ran the race anyway and Fremd still participated. Wouldn't you know it; the Vikings were faster -- even if it didn't count.

"This meet has always been about getting to 73 points as fast as you can," Nalley said. "We know there is a possible 146 total points in a dual and we always try to get to that magical 73 point mark as fast as possible, then see what happens."

While some rivalries are marked by bitterness, pranks, and the occasional trash talk, this one has none of it. Instead, the hallmarks of the Fremd-Palatine rivalry are praise, courtesy, class, and grace -- elements too often missing from sporting events event today.

"I think it comes down to the coaching staffs on both sides," said Bokor, who has been a part of the Fremd program since 1979. "Both teams carry themselves with such a high level of class and respect for the other side."

Both sides have had a little bit of crossover in the process as well. An example of that came in 1989, when Jeff Teach of Fremd won the state title in the shot put. His father coached at Palatine prior to Teach excelling at Fremd.

"That's one of those things that do make this rivalry unique," said Miller who coached at Palatine from 1977-2008.

One last element to this rivalry that has continued even though the dual meets took some time off was the Palatine Relays. The oldest relay meet in the state has featured Palatine and Fremd every year since the Vikings came into existence. Further, Fremd had an all-weather track long before Palatine did, which allowed the Vikings to host the meet on a couple of occasions.

This spring, the rivalry will continue on April 13 at Palatine. Fremd is the defending MSL champions and Palatine won the crown three years earlier. But on that afternoon all that matters is who will be the king of track and field in Palatine for one more year. As friendly as this rivalry is, there are still a few lines Aikens and Nalley won't cross.

"I don't even own anything that is green," Nalley said with a laugh.

"I don't look good in red," Aikens said.

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