In Loudon County, there’s a high school football rivalry that takes place 365 days a year. The match up between Lenoir City High School and Loudon High School marks the second oldest rivalry in the state.
The 88-year-old feud is known as the Battle of the Bridge.
There isn’t much that separates the two towns, geographically speaking, except the bridge across the Tennessee River. But every year there’s a battle for bragging rights of the bridge. It starts on the football field, but by no means ends there.
“I know others have a hard time just saying the “L” word ,” said Jeff Cortez, in his first season as the Lenoir High School head football coach.
“When that game starts, it’s ‘we’re going to win at all costs’ and afterwards you shake hands and you go on. But there are some people in the community who won’t even say the words Lenoir City,” said Loudon High School Head Football Coach of 13 years, Jeff Harig.
Rivals Loudon High School and Lenoir City High School have been playing for 88 years on the football field for bragging rights over this bridge that connects the two towns
This Friday, August 29th, will be the 88th time the teams have played. Over the years, the spirit of the rivalry has only grown deeper.
“The two teams started playing in 1923. That was Loudon’s first year of football,” said Bill Brakebill, Loudon County teacher of 29 years and the team’s videographer. “We’ve played every year since with the exception of about five years back in the ’40s the rivalry got a little bit out of hand.”
“Part of the rivalry was, what prank can you pull on the other school?” said Harig. “We had a lot of stadium damage, one year they poured detergent in the fountain.”
The pranks and vandalism got to be too much even for the students in the ’90s.
“The student councils of the two schools got together in the spring of ’95. We wanted to do something that would take their minds off of that and put it on something else,” Brakebill said.
They decided to channel their intensity toward a good cause and named it the Battle of the Bridge. It began a challenge to see who could collect the most canned food for the local charity Good Samaritan Center.
“The food and the money brought into the Good Samaritan Center makes up 35-40% of the food they distribute for the whole year,” said Greg Boling, assistant principal and athletic director at Lenoir City High School.
But helping out their neighbor is about the only thing the two rivals plan on doing together.
Whoever owns this bridge owns the year.
“People will say, ‘I don’t care if you go 1-9 as long as you win that game.’ It rivals all the big rivals in college football that we know of: Alabama vs. Auburn, Alabama vs. Tennessee, Ohio State vs. Michigan. If you win that one game it gives you bragging rights the whole year,” said Harig.