Lakeland-Panas is not your typical rivalry. Unlike the rivalries where feelings of animosity live deep underneath the skin of the players, when Lakeland and Panas square off against one another, respect outweighs hatred.
But like any rivalry, when the two take to the field or court, they are there to win. The pride of the school is on the table, as is a year’s worth of bragging rights.
“We respect them, they respect us, but on the field between the lines nobody wants to respect anybody,” Panas head coach Dan Patronik said, chuckling, ahead of Friday’s game against the Panthers’ crosstown rivals. “Once we walk off the field and the whistle blows, hands get shook, and there’s that level of respect again, and whoever wins gets to talk about it for the entire next year.”
Lakeland has dominated the head-to-head series lately, winning nine of the last 11 meetings, causing Panas to feel like the “stepchild” of the district, according to Patronik.
“You want to be the top dog in the district,” said Patronik, who is in his sixth year as the Panthers’ head coach. “In that sense, it brings a lot of pride.”
Lakeland head coach Rob Cappelli has been coaching at the school for more than two decades, and said the excitement of the rivalry has yet to lose its luster.
“It’s definitely a fun thing to be a part of,” Cappelli said, before the game. “They play together in multiple sports throughout high school, and on the youth level they played for the feeder program together.”
The respect is not confined to the players on the field.
“I respect the hell out of Cappelli,” Patronik said. “He gets 25 kids to play tough ball, man.”
Patronik jokingly said that with rain slated to make its way through the game for the third consecutive year, Cappelli might literally be talking with the football gods.
“It’s raining again tonight, which is what he wants — to be able to slow me down,” Patronik said. “I’m like, ‘Does he have an inside scoop with Big G up there?’ “
All jokes aside, both coaches are thankful to have a “clean” rivalry.
“We’re very lucky here,” Cappelli said. “The kids all get along very well. It’s always a clean game, and that’s what it’s about. That’s what a good rival game is about.”