PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Walking through the parking lot they used to run through as kids, Dave Simpson and Ron Schuring laugh nostalgically at the broken pavement around them.
“The football field, if we walk over there, it’s just everything that’s down and dirt now,” Schuring said point to the Portage Central football field that’s under construction.
The two grew up together in Portage. They were split in junior high but back in the same classes for 9th, 10th and 11th grades. Their Junior year in 1965 would be the last together as classmates.
“We were together for everything, sports and all that and then senior year. They got the new house and we stayed in the old one,” Schuring said, talking about Portage Northern opening for the first year in 1966. “We kept the field.”
It’s a slight jab from the old friend, “we kept the field,” but it’s true. From 1966 until 2017, Portage Northern would never have its own field. They played their home games at Portage Central and alternated years as home and away between their cross-town rival.
But these two were the first to start the inner-city battle. One they describe as a civil war, splitting the town and splitting families.
“It was like a heavyweight fight and you just kept slugging,” Simpson described the very first meeting in 1966. “They came out on top but it wasn’t for lack of effort, it wasn’t for lack of competition. I don’t remember the score.”
“Central Defeats Northern” as the paper would print it the next day. The rivalry began with a 19-13 thriller. They may not have remembered the score but they remembered what was important after.
“It was very competitive. We knew each other and we knew each other well. But when it came time to play football, we were out there to win,” Schuring said about winning that inaugural game. “And then you were friends again. It’s that easy because we had developed a lot of friendships.”
“Enduring friendships,” Simpson added. “There’s a lot of us that still know each other.”
And for the first time in their 53 meetings, Portage Central will start a tradition never done before in this matchup. They will travel to Portage Northern, their first time meeting at Huskie Stadium.
But while the stadium may be new and the faces may be different, there is one thing that is almost certainly guaranteed when the two teams meet again — it will be a civil war. Civil in every sense of the word. And a war, through the rivalry that was forged through friendship.