One of the greatest rivalries in all of American sports is not a football game -- pro or college -- nor a baseball game nor any of what you might consider "the usual suspects". Instead, it's a Division III NCAA Basketball game between two private Christian West Michigan colleges, playing in the same conference. They meet twice a year and sometimes more. It plays to a packed house, new or old facilities, and the local ABC affiliate WZZM-TV13 -- contractually obligated to other programming -- provides camera and support to the local PBS station WGVU-TV35/52 which airs it live whenever the Rivalry games show up.
Hope College of Holland MI and Calvin College of Grand Rapids MI. Reformed Church of America versus Christian Reformed Church -- both of the Dutch Reformed movement. Both outstanding liberal arts and sciences educational institutions. I tend to favor Hope, by virtue of my teaching as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics in 1996-7, and frankly we're a wee bit closer to Holland than Calvin -- but it's a close call.
Saturday 13 January 2007 2:00pm
Other than perhaps attending a Grand Valley versus Michigan Tech game with the MTU Alumni Association, this is the only college basketball I am likely to watch before March Madness. As such, it sort of sneaks up on me. At 2:07pm I was reading the Grand Rapids Press and there it said The Rivalry was on. Power up the TV.
In the 162 prior meetings from 1920 to 2006, the series was tied 81-81. The average point differential per game in 0.27 points. Folks, although it varies always from year to year, The Rivalry is about as close as you can possibly get. I hate crowds, but I'd love to somehow get a ticket and see one of these in person. It is powerful and unbelievable.
If I get my details right, Hope was on a 10-game winning streak in regular games. Calvin was coming off a big win. And the game was played at Calvin. By the time I turned on the TV, Hope was ahead, but not by much. Calvin moved ahead just before the half. Hope was ahead by three points with less than a minute to go in the game, but Calvin got the ball at the end. Three-point shot... banged off the rim... four Hope lads grabbed for the rebound. Game over. Hope wins 55-52 and now leads the series 82-81. This will mean nothing when they meet again at Hope later in the season.
More Than A Game
It would be easy to take pot shots at two supposedly squeaky clean Christian teams, but frankly, they both are squeaky clean Christian teams. For the local West Michigan athletes, they already played with and knew each other from the various area public and Christian high schools. They know each other on the teams. And for those students who come out of the area, they learn about The Rivalry, but as a very positive thing.
Bob Becker, sports columnist for The Grand Rapids Press, wrote today that the alumni of The Rivalry are in awe of their combatants from both teams and how they have become members of business and industry and the community.
There's no multi-million dollar pro sports contracts, there's no drugs or parties with hookers -- do we even have to go here? This is not just a rivalry between two local colleges or conference foes. This is what college athletics could really be if we took it more seriously and, dare I say it, more spiritually.
It's a lovely game.
Oh. And my team won. Yay!