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Cross county game has grown in intensity

The high school basketball rivalry between Anderson County and Clinton rates as one of the most-intense matchups in East Tennessee.

These two schools have played each other at least twice a season on the basketball court since 1982. Unlike the football rivalry during the past two decades dominated by Anderson County, the Mavericks-Dragons rivalry – particularly on the boys’ side – has run fairly even.

During the past two regular seasons, the Mav and Dragon boys have split the four contests. The Dragons swept the series three seasons ago after the Mavericks swept the year before.

During the 2018 District 3-AAA Boys Tournament, the Mavericks ended the Dragons’ season with a 61-46 victory.

The Lady Mavericks have been more dominant over the Lady Dragons during recent seasons. AC won both games last season, but the two split the year before.

Jim Harris of radio station WYSH, who has called AC-Clinton basketball games during the past 20 seasons, said this annual matchup is one of his favorite tasks.

“It is a great rivalry that seems to get more intense each season,” said Harris, who a number of years ago nicknamed AC vs. Clinton “the Crosstown Showdown.”

“You have coaches who have been around a long time and understand the importance of this rivalry,” he said. “The boys’ games are usually evenly matched and you rarely see a blowout. There have been years when the favored team was beaten after the team struggling gave one of its top performances of the season and won unexpectantly. Fans from both teams really get into this – especially the students.”

Harris, who loves to call basketball games more than any other sports assignment, said it is impossible to account for all of the excitement generated over the past 20 years of this series because there are too many of them to list.

“More often than not, the game ends in a buzzer beater,” Harris said. “I can’t count the number of times the boys’ game has gone to overtime. I also know where one team would have a big lead through three periods and then the other team would come back literally from nowhere to eventually win. There are all kinds of possibilities when these teams play.”

While the AC-Clinton rivalry began with the opening of Anderson County High School in 1982, the cross-county basketball rivalries were happening long before then when the Dragons would play the old Lake City and Norris high schools.

“The gyms were packed to the rafters when these teams played each other,” said Anderson County Commissioner Bob Jamison when he was speaking about the area basketball rivalries several years ago. “When Clinton went to play at Lake City, there would be a caravan of cars carrying fans to the game. If Clinton won, that caravan was like a parade celebration heading back to Clinton. The same was the case when Lake City and Norris would come to Clinton.”

Jamison, who worked a countless number of decades, said that while the schools are rivals, their players and fans have much in common.

“I know many Clinton alumni who have kids going to Anderson County and vice versa,” Jamison said. “These folks represent family, friends and neighbors, they go to church together and even work together. It is a great atmosphere and one where there is a true coming-out party twice each winter.”

Harris noted Dragons vs. Mavericks is not only a county rivalry, but the games also count in the district standings.

“These games can mean something when you get toward the district tournament and teams are jostling for seeding positions,” Harris said. “These matchups have meant the difference more often than not as far as one team getting a higher seeding. You can call ‘throwing out the record books when these teams play’ a cliché, but coaches and players on both squads truly put everything on the line when they hit the court to play against each other.”

You can hear Harris call his 21st season of Mavericks vs. Dragons basketball beginning at 6 p.m. Friday on WYSH-AM 1380 and FM 99.5 and 101.1.