• December 22, 2014

Split schools, mean close rivals

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Posted: Friday, September 9, 2011 4:41 am

Sam Jones saw it coming. Now in his eighth season as Killeen’s head football coach, Jones was an assistant when Harker Heights High School opened in 2000 after years as the Killeen Ninth Grade Center.

Killeen vs. Harker Heights was going to mean something.

“They were a branch of our kids — that was the ninth grade center feeding into Killeen High,” Jones said. “I think that made some people mad and some people excited about having their own school, but it pushed it to be a rivalry.” The schools didn’t play right away, but the wait finally ended in 2002. Behind quarterback Dominique Zeigler, who went on to Baylor and the NFL, the Knights prevailed in double overtime 37-31 before a crowd of nearly 7,200 people.

Time will tell if the Killeen-Heights game can reach the level of the city’s oldest rivalry — Killeen vs. Ellison. Those two have met every year since Ellison opened its doors in 1978, giving the city a second school and the Roos another rival in addition to neighboring Temple. Only this rival wasn’t 25 miles away.Killeen and Ellison are separated by less than five miles. The two also have more than 30 graduating classes each since the split to build up the opposing fan bases and alumni networks.

But now, 11 years after Heights and Shoemaker opened their doors, the Knights and Roos continue to build what is a thriving rivalry.

“It’s a big game,” Jones said. “It’s a rivalry.”

Harker Heights basketball coach Celneque Bobbitt, a lifelong Killeen resident, has seen the area grow from a two-horse town to the four-school district it’s become.

He’s seen the standing-room-only crowds in the schools’ gyms, spending time as an assistant at Killeen before he was named the Heights head man in 2000. But it was nothing like the scene at Leo Buckley Stadium when the Killeen and Ellison football teams met.

“The Killeen-Ellison games were you best not need to go home after school if you really want to go — that was the Killeen-Ellison game,” Bobbitt said.

The game caused a divide among the students.

“There were definite boundaries. There were parts of town where we didn’t go to,” Bobbitt said. “Killeen was pretty much relegated to Marlboro Heights, Long Branch, down there by old Fairway Middle School and Rancier.

“Ellison was over there across from Manor, Willow Springs and somewhat of the Heather Glen area. We didn’t intermingle. ... We didn’t even talk to each other — and these are some of my best buddies to this day — but we didn’t talk to each other until we were in college. That’s what it meant to everybody.”

Killeen and Heights already have many of the ingredients for a rivalry.

It started with players leaving to go to the upstart Knights in 2000. They won the District 17-4A title and reached the third round of the playoffs in their first year.

“It was tough seeing half of the kids that we trained leave and go to Heights,” Jones said. “The good thing about it is the same year, we made the playoffs.”

Both have enjoyed success, the wins helping fill the Leo Buckley seats. Heights reached the playoffs six times in its first seven seasons. Killeen has reached the last three years.

“The main deal I think is just wins fill the stands, and that’s what it comes down to,” Bobbitt said. “You win a couple, rattle off a couple, and the people are going to be there, I guarantee you.” And with the district’s rezoning plan set last year, Killeen’s potential move back to 5A would push the Roos back into a district with Heights, Ellison and Shoemaker.

“As we get going, I think those rivalries will continue to grow,” Heights head coach Mike Millins said. “If we all become a 5A league in the next go around, then I think it’ll push that importance between all than maybe what it is now.”

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