By: Michael Kennedy and Syltavius Kelley
When you think of the best rivalries in sports a few that come to mind are the Celtics vs Lakers, Yankees vs Red Sox, Bears vs Packers, and Gators vs Bulldogs. One thing each of these rivalries has in common is that they’re built off of a pure dislike for each other but perhaps, mutual respect as well.
A rivalry between two small high schools in Alachua County, however, isn’t like most.
The P.K. Yonge Blue Wave and Hawthorne Hornets have mutual respect for one another. While the games are always competitive, there’s no deep hatred between the schools.
The two schools are located only 17 miles from one another, which means that the rivalry has been brewing for decades. Although P.K. Yonge’s boys’ basketball head coach Boderick Johnson did not attend either school, he still knows how far back the rivalry reaches.
“P.K. and Hawthorne goes way back to like the early to mid-80s, and they were some battles,” he said. “Definitely good competitive action, nothing nasty or anything of that sort, but just good hard-fought battles.”
Even though Johnson didn’t attend P.K. Yonge, he still has some first hand experience thanks to his coaching days with the girls’ basketball team, having led them to state championships in 2010 and 2012. The rivalry with Hawthorne was alive even then.
“Even when I was coaching on the girls’ side, it was always competitive,” he said. “We pretty much dominated overall though on the girls’ side.”
However, Johnson says that a good rivalry can’t be too one-sided, which is why the match-ups between the two boys’ basketball team have historically been so intense. In 2017-18, the two teams won on each other’s home floors, before Hawthorne swept the series the past two years, with each game coming down to the wire. (P.K. Yonge vs Hawthorne Recap 1/30/20)
“The competitiveness is what really drives a rivalry,” he said.
Hawthorne head coach Greg Bowie agrees with that sentiment.
“Anytime when games are just total blowouts game after game after game, then to me, it may be a rivalry for the fans, but not really on the court,” he said. “This game is always competitive and always a close game.”
For Bowie, the rivalry is a bit more personal. He played at Hawthorne while in high school, and he was never able to beat P.K. during his four years.
“When I got into coaching, there are a few things I had to do as a coach,” he said. “I got to make sure I beat P.K. Yonge.”
During his time at Hawthorne, Bowie has been able to beat P.K. Yonge, though it hasn’t been easy.
“We’ve been on both ends of it where we will jump off to an early lead, and they come back late, or they will jump out, or sometimes it’s just back and forth the whole game.”
Despite the competitive nature, that aspect does not hold up off-court because of the familiarity between the programs.
“This rivalry means a lot,” Bowie said. “It’s not a bitter rivalry because coach Johnson and I know each other. He’s a great guy.”
“It’s not like Duke-North Carolina or anything,” Johnson adds with a laugh. “It’s just mutual respect. We compete, but outside of basketball, we do anything we can to help each other. I help his kids, and he helps my kids.”
Johnson said the two men talk frequently and pick each other’s brains to try to improve their own teams. He also said that their players play rec ball together and some play on travel teams together.
“It’s to the point of you wanting to beat each other, but at the same time, you respect each other in terms of what they are doing with their programs,” Johnson said.
The fans have clearly taken notice. Both games played in 2020 had stands that were filled by the end of the first quarter of the junior varsity games.
“That’s when you know both programs are going in the right direction, you can look at the crowd and the atmosphere, and you’ll know that both programs are going in the right direction,” Bowie said.
“Hawthorne is a small community and has a great following,” Johnson said on his rivals. “The fans down there gravitate to the athletic program.”
Hawthorne may be 19-3 and may have swept the series this season, but that doesn’t change the ferocity of the on-court rivalry.
“Records don’t really mean anything; you just want to beat each other’s head in,” Johnson said.