For years, Kickapoo’s and Camdenton’s football programs existed in parallel universes. Kickapoo opened in 1971 and didn’t play the Lakers until 1998.
But when examining the iconic coaches who steered the two programs, the players who have taken part in classic games and the odd coincidences, clearly there is more to this matchup than a quick glance would suggest.
Tonight, Camdenton coach Jeff Shore and his Lakers travel to Springfield to take on coach Joel Wells’ Chiefs at Pottenger Stadium in a 7 p.m. kickoff. It’s the moment when more than 80 combined years of football history and traditions will collide.
Horner Askins, now an integral member of the Springfield Quarterback Club, remembers 1971 well. He was an assistant for the Chiefs’ first nine seasons with coach Jim Pearson when Kickapoo High School opened its doors to approximately 900 students, the majority of whom previously attended Glendale High School.
“We got some elite athletes from each area, first from Glendale,” Askins said. “Kent Stringer was our quarterback, and he was later an all-American, particularly an academic all-American for (Southwest Missouri State).”
Players such as Terry Thomas and Kirk May contributed to Kickapoo’s 4-6 season.
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Meanwhile in that same season, in a small town north of Joplin called Jasper, was a young coach by the name of Bob Shore. It was also his final year there. The Cassville native led East Newton to a 20-7 record from 1972 to 1974 before taking the coaching job at Camdenton High School in 1975.
Shore amassed 327 victories with the Lakers over 36 years. Add Shore’s wins at Jasper and East Newton, and only Jefferson City’s Pete Adkins coached teams to more football victories on Missouri soil. Pearson continued coaching Kickapoo for 20 seasons, finishing 135-66-2.
Looking back, Shore remembers knowing of Pearson as they built their programs, but it was a different era. No cell phones. No Internet. And they didn’t have direct showdowns that make for natural adversaries.
It stayed that way for both schools even through their great 1980s — Camdenton with state championships in 1986 and 1987, Kickapoo with state quarterfinals appearances in 1988 and 1989. The Chiefs’ 11-1 season in 1989 set a school record that the 2013 Chiefs tied as the best Kickapoo seasons of all time.
Camdenton won its back-to-back state championships with all-state quarterback Jeff Shore, who joined his father’s staff and was on the sideline when the Lakers played Kickapoo for the first time in 1998.
“Kurt Thompson took that job in ’98, and we opened the season with (Kickapoo) in ’98 and beat them 14-0,” Bob Shore said. “I was glad we played them in the opener.”
“I remember us not playing really well but having a competitive game,” Thompson said. “We played very good defensively and made a game out of it.”
“That next day (Shore) called me because he knew we didn’t play very good. He knew how frustrated I’d be,” Thompson said. “Bob Shore helped me out more than any other high school coach, and I had so much respect for him for doing that.”
“Kurt is a fine football coach, and he’s also a good friend,” Shore said. “From the very start he was an excellent football coach to compete against.”
The two teams played each other within a touchdown four consecutive times from 2002 to 2006.
“We had some great games. If I’m not mistaken, over a four-year span, we played them in three overtime games,” Thompson said. “It was always a great series for us.”
The 2005 Lakers went undefeated en route to the school’s fifth state championship, needing a field goal in overtime to beat Kickapoo, 16-13.
“Every game was an instant recipe for a nail-biter, all close ballgames, good, hard-fought ballgames,” Shore said.
These days, Kickapoo is a Class 6 school in football, while Camdenton remains Class 5. Both programs reached the state quarterfinals a year ago.
Camdenton, of course, has long been viewed as a football school. Kickapoo, however, is seen through a different prism, as a basketball school first.
Kickapoo is showing staying power on the gridiron again. The Chiefs are off to a 3-0 start — Tony Grant’s 2-yard run beat Joplin in overtime last Friday — and play on artificial turf, installed ahead of the 2012 season.
Thompson senses that’ll make a huge difference. Camdenton has had turf since 2006.
“One of the best things that helped Springfield football out was when Mr. (Mark) Fisher got all the fields turfed,” Thompson said, referring to the Springfield Public Schools athletic director. “It showed the kids that football was important.”
Kickapoo vs. Camdenton over the past decade
2013: 21-19 Kickapoo
2012: 25-7 Camdenton
2011: 15-9 Kickapoo
2010: 28-7 Camdenton
2009: 13-3 Camdenton
2008: 24-21 Kickapoo
2007: 27-9 Camdenton
2006: 19-6 Camdenton
2005: 16-13 Camdenton
2004: 21-15 Camdenton