Wagon Wheel battle goes on the road

By Bill Althaus
William Chrisman players hoist the Wagon Wheel Trophy after a win at Truman last year. This year's winner of the classic rivalry game will lift the trophy at Staley High School so the schools can have more fans and cheer and dance squads attend.

The biggest football game of the season between Noland Road rivals Truman and William Chrisman is so big it won’t take place in Independence.

The Bears and Patriots have moved the battle for the Wagon Wheel Trophy to Staley High School in Clay County at 7 p.m. Thursday to allow the schools to have a larger crowd because of Jackson County COVID-19 restrictions. The game had originally been scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Chrisman.

“This game is so big,” said Chrisman activities director Greg McGhee, whose Bears host the annual event, “we wanted to move it to a bigger venue where a lot more fans could attend. If we would have played it at our stadium, because of Jackson County rules, no fans from Truman would have been allowed.

“Since we are in Clay County, we can have fans from both schools and both school’s cheer squads and dance teams will be able to perform. It’s still a huge game for both of our schools, it’s just at a different site this year.”

Welcome to the year of the coronavirus.

“We’ll be ready to go wherever we play, and I’m sure Coach (Charlie) Pugh at Truman feels the same way,” Chrisman coach Matt Perry said. “You’d like to think that your team prepares the same way for every opponent, but we all know this week is different.

“Coach Pugh has his team playing well right now and we’re going to really have to play well to get another win in the Wagon Wheel series.”

The Bears have won the past four Wagon Wheel contests – and five in a row, counting a district playoff win in 2018 – taking last year’s game 15-13 on two dramatic touchdown runs by then quarterback Osi Nauer. This year, Nauer was slated to play running back but an early knee injury has forced him to the sidelines this season.

Chrisman holds a 25-24 overall lead in the series (30-27 counting playoff games) and neither team has ever won more than four Wagon Wheel games in a row. McGhee did some homework and found out that there was no game played in 1971 because of a lack of funding, so the two high schools were shut down for a short period of time.

This year, both teams head into Thursday’s contest with 0-4 records, though Truman held early leads in its first three games before falling 38-0 to No. 4-ranked Grain Valley last week.

“We’re both looking for a win,” Pugh said, “so one of our teams will pick up its first win and that makes it exciting. And I tell our players to get ready for every game like they’re playing a state champion, but there is a little something extra when you’re preparing for Chrisman and the Wagon Wheel game.

“They’ve had it quite a while and we’re going to do everything we can to get it back to Truman. And we’re excited and thankful that the game has been moved to Staley so our fans can attend. And our cheer and dance squads will be there too, so there should be a great atmosphere  and a lot of excitement.”