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There are two factors at the heart of all great rivalries. The first is the notion of two places who believe themselves to be very different, even when outsiders would see similarities.

Harvard and Yale. Red Sox and Yankees. Two tiny islands off Cape Cod.

The second factor is tradition. Vito Capizzo came here as a young coach. He had spent his college days playing for the legendary Bear Bryant, on an Alabama team quarterbacked by a kid from Pennsylvania coal country named Joe Namath.

He taught the kids in this small town a way to beat the kids from bigger towns. In return they gave him all they had to give. The result was tradition.

He became the kind of coach that your father and maybe your uncles also played for, in a town so small that every boy in school needed to show up for practice if that coach was going to be able to put a team on the field. Times have changed, but Vito is still on the sidelines trying to find a way to steal a win from bigger schools and stronger teams.

The reason grown men and women rally around such teams is that they can see that their sons, or their neighbors’ sons, have dedicated themselves to something. That is where pride comes from.
One Saturday afternoon, earlier this fall, I was waiting in line to grab a couple of hot dogs, after the Whalers had lost a football game. I ran into two women my own age, both parents, who asked me about the game and shrugged when I told them about the loss.

They were happy to tell me that they were soccer parents, in a tone that made their disdain for football clear. Which on top of being a silly way for adults to act, misses the point entirely.
In the end, of course, high school sports breaks down to small groups of kids, trying to do their best, to win at a game. Isn’t that what we try to teach our own kids? Work hard, focus, sacrifice for a goal, dedicate yourself to a team? And make no mistake, parents who establish those ideals in their sons and daughters make things much easier on coaches.

The soccer team and the field hockey team had wonderful seasons, championship seasons. They are working on their own traditions.

Saturday afternoon’s tradition will belong to the football team. A Whaler team that has not won a single game will face a Martha’s Vineyard team that is 9-1 and has owned the Island Cup for the last five seasons.

They will win or they will lose, but if they leave it all on the field they will become part of the tradition.
John Stanton is a writer and a filmmaker on Nantucket.

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