Contrasting-size schools, differing philosophies, different conferences — it doesn’t matter — Alton High vs. Marquette Catholic is very much a rivalry.
I’m a 1994 graduate of Alton High and I remember how much we used to get up to play the Explorers in our annual baseball game at Busch Stadium. It was one we had circled on the schedule.
Marquette is listed with an enrollment of 422, a parochial school nestled in downtown Alton. AHS is a large public school with 2,020 students and a burgeoning newer campus in Godfrey. At first glance you’d think, ‘How can that be a rivalry?’ But trust me, it is.
It’s a shame though because the other Greater Alton schools, Roxana, East Alton-Wood River and Civic Memorial, play one another and Marquette frequently, but for the Explorers and Redbirds to meet is quite rare.
“I think it’s important to beat the crosstown rival because it’s always fun to have a little bragging rights against them,” junior Marquette boys’ golfer Michael Holtz said with a smile when the two programs met this season. “They could beat us any time, but we played a little better (this year).”
Recently the Explorers and Redbirds met in boys’ golf and girls’ tennis, and as an Alton grad I must unfortunately announce Marquette won both events.
The boys’ golf teams met at Rock Spring Golf Course Sept. 9 with the Explorers carding a 151 to outdistance AHS, which shot 172. Holtz was medalist with a 36.
On Tuesday, the girls’ tennis programs met at Lewis and Clark Community College with Marquette coming out on top 8-1 in a dual that last nearly five hours. The No. 2 singles match between Alton’s Abby Fischer and Elena Gable of the Explorers went two and a half hours, with Gable prevailing 6-4, 7-5, 11-9.
Alton won the tennis grudge match in ‘14, but it was the first time it had beaten the Explorers since 2007.
“You saw tonight, this is the best crowd we’ve had for the girls and it’s an energetic crowd and the girls feed off of it,” Alton assistant girls’ tennis coach Jesse Macias, a Marquette grad, said after Tuesday’s match. “I wish we played them twice a year.”
AHS boys’ golf coach Zach Deeder echoed the same sentiment about the importance of these grudge matches. Alton and Marquette had been meeting at Lockhaven Country Club for their rivalry match, but when Lockhaven closed its doors after last golf season, the rivalry needed a new home and Deeder and Pat Moore, coach of the Explorers, frantically started looking for a new home, finding The Rock.
“We had to reschedule this a couple times, but we were never going to cancel it,” Deeder, an Alton grad, said. “It is bragging rights. If I ever get one over on Pat he’s never going to live it down, because I’ve had my fair share of abuse from him.”
Unfortunately, the teams don’t meet in sports like football, basketball or baseball anymore. The annual Busch Stadium baseball game had been idle since the ’90s, but in 2013 the two programs met on the hallowed grounds again with the Birds winning 5-1.
The boys’ basketball teams met in the Jersey Tournament on Jan. 18, 2013, on neutral ground and the Explorers nabbed honors there in a 51-50 dramatic victory. It was the first time the two schools had played in that sport since the late ’80s and it was Marquette’s first-ever win over the Birds.
Football, unfortunately, hasn’t met since the late 1960s and Alton was ruling that rivalry when it ended.
It’s a shame the Redbirds and Explorers don’t meet more often, but Moore understands it’s hard with conferences and scheduling.
“It’s pretty rare,” Moore, a Marquette grad, said. “We don’t really get to play each other because their conference is pretty large and they have to play each other twice, so they have to fill those dates in, but we always have this (golf) set up because it’s a great tradition. It’s nice to have a sport where we can have nice rivalries, because you can’t get it in basketball or football.”
It’s a community-based rivalry. Many of the parents and coaches are Marquette and Alton grads. Marquette head girls’ tennis coach Jim Claywell explained that doing it for the community is what makes it most important.
“From a tennis standpoint it’s very important,” Claywell said. “We all know each other, parents, coaches, this is more than a Marquette and Alton match and we need to keep this going if there is such a thing as rivalry, because it’s community and we’re all wanting a good tennis base ...There is no way we wouldn’t have this match with Alton because it benefits all of us.”