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Q-C rivalries among best in the state

Throughout Illinois, Friday nights during the fall mean high school football. During the winter, they mean prep basketball.

In the Illinois Quad-Cities, those Fridays mean something a little more.

They mean boosters willing to make a short trek across town or a long drive to see their team play a game that fill stadiums and gymnasiums.

The bigger the game, there's nothing like it.

On one particular fall Friday in October, more than 9,000 Quad-Citians jammed into the seats and around the track at Moline's Browning Field to watch a high school football game between the Rock Island Rocks and Moline Maroons.

These weren't just fans of the Rocks and Maroons. These were high school fans. Fans of kids who are willing to put their heart and soul onto the field for a couple of hours and give those in the stands a reason to cheer.

``That was a great night for both schools, the communities and the athletes involved,'' said Moline coach Dan McGuire. ``As a coach, you really don't notice what's happening around you or get caught up in the excitement, but once the game was over, I was able to sit back and reflect on what a great night that was.

``Hopefully, it brought out some new fans and rejuvenated some old fans. Maybe this will be the rebirth of what high school football was in the '60s and '70s.''

High school sports were something special in the Quad-Cities then, and they are well on their way back to being the same now.

We're not just talking about a few certain Friday nights. It's every Friday night.

The reason? It's the closeness of the schools, the bitterness of the rivalries and the willingness to put it all on the line for the athletes.

On any given Friday, the big game in town takes place at any number of venues.

At Alleman, the Pioneers' game against United Township means more than anything to the students and graduates of those two institutions. Across town, the Rocky-Moline battle is one of the state's oldest and most heated rivalries.

Then, the next week, they do it all over again, pitting different teams and playing on a different stage. Still, that game is the big game for everyone involved.

``I see that a lot,'' said McGuire. ``I think it's the fact that the play is so much stronger up and down the line now, and with just nine football games, every game is huge if you want to make the playoffs.

``The one thing I miss is the games against the Iowa Quad-City schools. Those were a lot of fun when we used to play them. I guess those games won't ever happen again, so the games we play with our Big 6 rivals will take on even more importance.''

While in some parts of the state, the big game comes and the big game goes. In the Quad-Cities, the big game lasts a year or longer. There's no doubt Rock Island football fans will be talking about their team's 15-12 win over the Maroons right up to the minute they kick off again this coming October at Almquist Field.

These frantic Fridays aren't limited to the gridiron. When the weather cools off, the excitement fills the gymnasiums around the area.

On a wintery Friday night in mid-January, they packed Wharton Field House to watch four future NCAA Division I basketball players battle in the game between the No. 3-rated Galesburg Silver Streaks and the No. 4-rated Moline Maroons.

This was a game with such intrigue, fans around the Quad-Cities were trying to purchase tickets back in October.

Still, while that drama was playing out in Moline, it's certain several thousand were seated at the Rock Island Fieldhouse with the game between the Rocks and Pioneers their chief concern.

Some claim the Moline-Rock Island basketball rivalry, which began in the late 1890s, is the state's oldest continuing series.

``I've coached at other schools around the state, and there are big rivalry games out there,'' said McGuire. ``None of those take on the importance of the games in the Quad-Cities. Certainly, it's a tribute to you people in the media who help build the excitement, but there are no better fans anywhere than there are in the Quad-Cities.''

That's what makes Quad-City football or basketball Fridays so special.

-- By Jeff Wendland (January 26, 1998)

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