DIXON – Every other day, Rock Falls and Sterling are separated by the Rock River.
Wednesday night, the two communities were separated by the purple-sidelined hardwood of Lancaster Gym.
On one side, the green-clad fans of the Rock Falls Rockets jumped to their feet every time Tyree White floated a short jumper over a Sterling defender during the Class 3A Dixon Regional boys basketball game.
On the other, Sterling faithful – some wearing football helmets, blue-and-gold hard hats or wrestling singlets – went wild when Jose Knox buried a couple of long 3s in the second quarter.
In the end, the Golden Warrior fans went home happy thanks to a pair of Patrick Petrosky free throws with 8.5 seconds left that delivered a 49-48 win.
While there are a couple bridges that connect the two communities, it took only a few steps once the celebrating subsided for the two groups to merge on Wednesday.
Players hugged, opposing fans shared handshakes and two communities came together.
Isn’t that what sports are for?
Too often folks get caught up in words like “rivals” and “opponents”. Players jaw at each other. Fans turn cold shoulders. The game becomes less about fun and more about beating the other guy.
This felt more like neighbors watching a game at the park. Well, I should say, a game at the park where a few neighborhoods were invited to watch.
And it was at the park, at the YMCA, or in youth leagues, where these two groups of players met for the first time years ago. They grew up playing against one another. For the seniors, it may be the last time they’ll play against each other.
“It’s definitely an advantage for both teams,” Rock Falls junior Austin Babcock said. “We know what they like to do. They know what we like to do.”
This was the best kind of send-off: a game where all the drama on and off the court of the last four months dissipated, and all that remained was two teams playing good basketball in front of a packed gym.
The game lived up to its historic past, back when the two schools would meet two or three times a season. Now, it’s only one unless fate (or the IHSA) interjects, as it did here, and the two meet in the postseason.
So, for now, the Rockets will be left licking sore wounds until next November, when they’ll meet the Warriors in the Sauk Valley Shootout to the start season.
For the Warriors, they get one more game, at least. They’ll face Alleman on Friday, where the reward will be a regional crown, but its hard to say if that’s as valuable as the bragging rights won Wednesday.