BY JEFF FALK
Anyone who attended this year’s Cedar Bowl or the recent boys’ and girls’ basketball games played between Lebanon County’s biggest schools knows that the Cedar Crest-Lebanon athletic rivalry is alive and well. But what we may have witnessed over the last decade or so is a switch in the emphasis of ‘The Rivalry’, away from less publicized sports.
There was a time when the Falcons and Cedars competed against each other in everything. If Cedar Crest and Lebanon fielded teams inter-scholastic teams, the schools met on the playing field.
But that is not necessarily the case any longer.
“To the athletic community, it’s a big deal,” said Lebanon athletic director Terri Johnston. “But the athletic community doesn’t play as big a role in the entire Lebanon Community as it once did. There was definitely a different focus 25-30 years ago.”
Currently, Cedar Crest and Lebanon don’t specifically schedule each other in golf, bowling or wrestling. But in golf and wrestling the Falcons do run into one another at tournaments.
“All I can says is there’s no reason I’m aware of for not scheduling Cedar Crest,” said Johnston. “We’ve looked to play them wherever we could. But as a former coach, I’d like to say, rivalry or not, if I didn’t think it was the in the best interest of my program, I wouldn’t schedule them for rivalry sake.”
“In our long-standing traditional sports, those main attractions, you don’t ever want to lose those rivalries,” said Cedar Crest athletic director John Shaffer. “You saw it last week with the boys’ and girls’ basketball games. And you saw it at the Cedar Bowl.”
Wrestling seems to be the poster child for this perceived switch in the emphasis of ‘The Rivalry’.
For decades -seemingly since the inception of each program – Cedar Crest and Lebanon wrestled one another, whether it was during a match within the same Lancaster-Lebanon League section or a non-league meeting. A couple of years ago that match was not renewed, although the Falcons and Cedars do meet up – either as teams or individually – in three separate tournaments.
“They weren’t on our schedule when I got here,” said Shaffer. “I had a conversation with Terri Johnston. (When I schedule) I talk to my coaches. I ask them, ‘Who do we want to schedule? Who do we want to wrestle?’ The reason I didn’t put Lebanon on the schedule is because we’ll see them at the Lancaster-Lebanon tournament, the Lebanon County tournament and a sectional tournament. I want to diversify. I want to play a team that’s going to diversify our schedule.
“Do we specifically put aside a spot on our schedule for Lebanon? No,” Shaffer continued. “Do we see them in tournaments throughout the year? Yes.”
“I bet if we asked our wrestlers, they may very well say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to wrestle against Cedar Crest’,” said Johnston. “They’re aware of the rivalry. When I coached field hockey, we loved to play Cedar Crest. Was it important to Lebanon County? Not as much.”
It may very well be that ‘The Rivalry’ is more important to fans and parents than it is to players and coaches. What is certain is that it is more important to natives and residents of Lebanon County than it is to those with peripherial ties to the locale.
“If you know anything about Lebanon and the County, it’s about Lebanon City and Cedar Crest,” said Johnston, a graduate of Lebanon High School. “There’s certainly bragging rights. I don’t know if it’s the generation that’s moving away from it. I’ve never had anyone come up to me and say, ‘Why don’t we compete against Cedar Crest?’ We like staying in our county as much as possible.
“No, I don’t know that it is as important as it once was,” Johnston added. “If you talk to the old-timers about playing in the (former) Central Penn League, our kids don’t even know what that is. To our kids, it’s not relevant. Maybe the rivalry we have with Cedar Crest is falling along those lines. I don’t know if it’s regarded in the same way in smaller sports. I think as you look at the exposure those teams get that becomes how important it is.”
“I don’t know how to answer that question,” said Shaffer when asked how important the rivalry with Lebanon is. “I think our main rivalries are our main rivalries. The points (for District Three rankings and playoffs) are very important. We have long discussions with our coaches when we do our scheduling.
“I can see it (the intensity of the rivalry) when we do the Cedar Bowl,” Shaffer continued. “And I can see it when we play in boys and girls basketball. The rivalry in those sports is intense. Do I have a sense of it? Yes I do. I do understand the intensity of it.”