The rivalry between Windham and Waterloo has always seemed like something special.
For almost 50 years, these two schools have put together a highlight reel of classic battles that has grown into an admiration for each other.
It has been through these nostalgic memories that the two similar basketball communities have seemed to bond.
Last Friday night, the Vikings visited Mary Hill Court in Windham for maybe (but hopefully not) the last time. Windham will be departing the Portage Trail Conference at the conclusion of this school year and the Waterloo community wanted to reflect on Bombers coach Marty Hill, his program and the Windham fans to show just how much they will be missed.
Prior to the start of the contest, retired Waterloo veteran coach John Herchek and current coach Jason Wise surprised Hill with a presentation of a plaque recognizing the longtime respect of the Windham program. Tim and Diane Wise presented Jane Hill with flowers. The Vikings wished the Bombers good luck in their new league and thanked them for a great ride.
The presentation received a long standing ovation by both sides of the court in what was a typically large Windham-Waterloo crowd.
Waterloo fielded its first team in 1968 and it wasn't long before the rivalry with Windham heated up.
The two teams shared the Portage County League title in 1972-73 and then again in 1975-76. Waterloo won the championship in 1976-77 and Windham came back the next year (1977-78) with an undefeated season.
Over a five-year period, the two contenders battled in some of the most memorable games the PCL had ever seen. They played each other in four overtime games. The only blemish on the Vikings' 1973 record was a one-point overtime loss to the Bombers.
"Everyone knew that if you wanted to win a title, you would have to go through Windham to do it," said Herchek last season before retiring. "I looked at it as a challenge for our program."
The 1976 state-bound Windham team lost to Waterloo early in the season, then beat the Vikings 61-59 on the final night of the season.
In 1982, when Windham made another run to Columbus, the two rivals shared the PCL title again. During the season they both beat each other in overtime games.
In the 1970s, the Bombers won four PCL titles, while Waterloo won three. Waterloo won three straight championships in 1989, 1990 and 1991, while Windham won a three-peat of its own in 2001 2002, 2003.
BOMBERS WILL BE MISSED
I think I can speak on behalf of basketball fans throughout Portage County when I say we will miss Windham, and I hope scheduling permits several Portage County teams to continue rivalries in a non-league setting.
This year's team is a perfect example of the tough competition the Bombers have brought to the hardwood year after year. I know there is a lot of the season remaining -- and some tough games ahead -- but I believe the Bombers can put together a run come tournament time. It would really be great to see Windham go out in historic style in 2013.
RACES HEATING UP
With about 75 percent of the season behind us, and only four division games left on the schedule, several important matchups appear on the horizon in both divisions.
The final four division games are spaced out over the next four Fridays. The biggest date on the calendar is probably Feb. 15 when Streetsboro will travel to Norton.
The Panthers have what should be a relatively easy ride until that date, however ,the Rockets have a big game this Friday when they host Coventry. The Comets own a nine-point victory over Streetsboro back in December in what has become the game that has kept the Rockets from sitting atop the division as co-leaders with Norton. Nick Marcini's Rockets, however, are playing well right now and have put together a five-game winning streak.
Coventry has taken over third place (6-4) in the Metro Division, but a Rockets win on Friday would close out any hope of the Comets gaining any piece of the title. Realistically, Streetsboro is the only team with any chance of catching the Panthers
CATS MUST WIN
Mogadore has now rolled over six straight opponents. Last Friday, the Wildcats squeaked out a two-point win over Garfield, but other than that game, they have five comfortable victories. The last time Mogadore lost was at Windham on Jan. 4.
The biggest challenge for Mogadore comes this Friday when they travel to Southeast. The Wildcats turned back the Pirates in December, 57-49. This is also a must-win game for Southeast, which had a pair of games postponed last week.
Mogadore is one game back of Windham in the division standings, while the Pirates are a game behind the Cats in the loss column, but now have a recheduled game with Woodridge on Tuesday (Feb. 5). Southeast's other makeup game will be on Feb. 9 when the host Newton Falls.
Windham continues to set the pace in the County Division. The Bombers are very enjoyable to watch every night because not only they are winning, but they are special with the way they are doing it.
The mark of a great team is usually registered in "assisted" baskets and watching the Bombers move the ball with precision passing to open teammates would make any basketball enthusiast smile. Tuesday night against Rootstown, not only did they have 24 steals to demonstrate how tough they play defensively, but they did not score a 3-point basket in the game. The "old school" style is something you don't see very often.