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SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Fans Get Fired Up For Exciting High School Rivalries

When I say these words, what is the one word they all have in common?



Virginia/ Virginia Tech


That word? Rivalry.

Being a high school and middle school coach, and athlete for most of my life, there’s nothing like a good high school rivalry. Rivalries get the blood and competitive juices flowing. The fan bases get rowdy and fired up. The players play with a little more motivation. And more often than not, the rivalry produces memorable games that are not easily forgotten by anyone involved. In the tri-state area of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, there are some really good high school rivalries. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Middlesboro/Bell County: I don’t care if the two schools are playing marbles, there is no love lost and competition is high between the Yellow Jackets and the Bobcats. Especially in football. For years, Middlesboro was the dominant program and state power in the series. Then Bell County became a state power and was dominant in the series. After a break in playing each other, the series was renewed and Bell holds a tight 4-2 edge in the series. One of the most fun high school atmospheres to be a part of is game night between the two. Any game in any sport between the two though is a battle. A must see.

Middlesboro/Pineville: Another great rivalry. Even though small in numbers, the Mountain Lions are a fierce, proud program and fan base and really get excited to play the Jackets. The football and basketball games are usually highly contested and often come down to the wire, especially recently. Very fun to be involved with. Definitely a must see also.

Harlan County/Harlan Independent: A little quick history lesson. There has always been a city (Harlan Independent) and county rivalry, dating back to the old 52nd District (Cawood, Cumberland, Evarts, and Harlan) and times past. It was always a war when the Green Dragons hooked up with any of those schools. Now fast forward to today. Since Cawood, Cumberland, and Evarts consolidated into Harlan County High School, the rivalry continues.

Take in a basketball game at the historic HHS gymnasium or at the state of the art HCHS facility and you will have a great time. There have also been some great baseball matchups as well. Very competitive. Maybe someday the two will match up in football. We can only hope.

Harlan County/Middlesboro: Don’t sleep on this one. This is a ultra competitive rivalry with a short time frame. Since HCHS opened in 2008, the Black Bears and the Jackets have hooked up in some very memorable battles in boys basketball, baseball, and softball. If you get a chance, take in any game between the two. Promise it’s worth the price of admission.

Cumberland Gap/Claiborne: Now that I have hung up my whistle, this is one Tennessee high school rivalry I am looking forward to taking in. It has all of the qualities; a big county in area divided by the Powell River, The Gap own the North of the river and the Bulldogs of Tazewell own the south; there is a definite athletic dislike between the two, and they play each other in all sports each year. That’s a great recipe for a rivalry isn’t it?

Shane Shackleford can be reached via e-mail at

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