For years, the biggest game on the schedule for Noland Road football rivals Truman and William Chrisman was the date they played each other.
One reason for the importance was simple: The two programs were struggling and it was the rare opportunity to put a tally mark in the win column.
Fortunes are a bit brighter now, especially at William Chrisman. The Bears are coming off an 8-2 campaign and have started this season with an impressive 2-0 record as they prepare to host the 0-2 Patriots at 7:05 p.m. at Independence All-School Stadium.
The winner of the game receives the Wagon Wheel Trophy, which is displayed at that school for a year.
Truman, which enjoyed an eight-win season a few years back under the leadership of former head coach Gregg Webb, is now struggling to find its football identity as it has lost by a combined score of 101-7 to Raytown (45-0) and Fort Osage (56-7).
But that has not put a damper on the spirits or enthusiasm of new head coach Charlie Pugh, who sees a glimmer of hope amid the dark clouds that hang over his program.
“I really like what I’ve seen from the players,” said Pugh, a former assistant at Liberty North High School who is a first-time head coach. “Everyone is positive and upbeat, and that’s how you begin to change the culture at a school.
“I was very excited when I was given this opportunity to coach at Truman High School and I am still excited, but I’m not just excited about football. I’m excited about something we call living our lives ‘To a T – a Truman T.’ We’re working hard to get better every day – better here at practice, in the classroom, in the weight room and in the community.”
He and his staff and players watch the game film on Saturday following each Friday night contest, and while the score might not indicate it, he sees some positive things and enjoys sharing them with his players.
“Raytown is a very good team – they beat Liberty North last week – and Fort Osage has a great program, but we were a mistake or two, or an inch or two from doing some big things in those games.
“The first week I arrived at Truman, everyone talked about what it would be like when we play Chrisman, and I know it’s a big game. This week, it’s the biggest game of the season. And next week, when we play Liberty North, that will be the biggest game of the season. Whatever team we play, on a weekly basis, will be our biggest game through Week 10.
“But we are all excited and looking forward to playing the Bears.”
It will not be a new experience for Chrisman’s first-year head coach Matt Perry, who was an assistant for two years under Scorpio Horn, but it will be his first time leading the Bears from the sidelines.
“It’s a home game, it’s against Truman and we’re 2-0, even though the kids are disappointed and know they could have turned in better performances in our first two wins,” said Perry, whose Bears defeated Oak Park 22-9 and Ruskin 28-7. “So everyone is excited. It’s always a big game when you play your rival – but we have to guard against the team getting too high for any game.
“This game, you have to calm them down a little bit instead of pumping them up.”
The Bears crushed the Patriots 48-14 last year, in the official first game in Truman’s new on-site stadium. But James Bailey – who threw for two touchdowns and ran for four more – is now a student-athlete at Western Illinois University.
When he graduated, the Bears lost 90 percent of their offense.
“We’re still working on our offense, but we’re getting there,” Perry said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re getting better every week.”