Spartans host Rebels in final Battle for the Bell

Grundy Center and G-R tied at 44-44-9 all-time

GRUNDY CENTER — The Victory Bell will ring once more. Beyond tonight’s 98th consecutive meeting between the high school football teams of Grundy Center and Gladbrook-Reinbeck, nothing is guaranteed.

The short drive down Highway 175 will witness the end of the longest annual rivalry game in Iowa tonight when Grundy Center hosts the two-time defending Class A state champion G-R Rebels, halting a series that has endured the test of all obstacles.

A new foe — dwindling enrollment — will force Gladbrook-Reinbeck to test its mettle in 8-Man football next fall and for the forseable future, leaving Grundy Center behind in the all-time series regardless of tonight’s outcome. The all-time series is tied 44-44-9 going into both teams’ 2017 season-opener at 7 p.m. tonight.

“Obviously it’s a point of contention with some people, it’s a point of motivation for some people, but it’s a great measuring stick for where we’re at as a program,” Grundy Center head coach Brent Thoren said. “It’s just been a really competitive rivalry as of late and they’ve gotten the upper hand on us the past 4-5 years.

“I think that if you look at the long haul of it, it’s been an outstanding rivalry, there’s a ton of respect when it comes down to it for both programs and coaches and that’s what makes it really fun.”

Grundy Center and Reinbeck had their initial meeting called off in 1919, and the Rams won back-to-back 12-0 contests to kick off the series. There were ties in six of the next 13 games, but Grundy Center eventually gained an advantage and led the series 32-26-9 by the time Reinbeck and Gladbrook began whole-grade sharing in 1987.

The Spartans won back-to-back Class 1A state titles under Chuck Bredlow in 1987 and 1988, and Grundy Center won nine of the first 11 bouts in the “Battle for the Bell” against the G-R Rebels.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck has held a distinct advantage in the rivalry since 1998, however, winning 19 of the last 22 games going into tonight’s series finale.

“I just think it’s the historical part of it, it’s just amazing to me that you can do something for 99 years and ever not do it,” said G-R head coach John Olson. “You think about something that started in 1919 or 1920 — there’s been so many wars and so many things and so many different schools and scheduling conflicts. To have this game always get played all the time shows that people 50 years ago knew that we’re doing this game forever.

“It’s a unique situation, the whole thing.”

Thoren, a 1994 Grundy Center graduate, never lost to the Rebels on the gridiron. He was a part of a five-year Spartan win streak that came by a combined score of 238-18 from 1990-1994.

Grundy Center won three games in a row from 1990-1992 by a combined 144-0. The Spartans have scored a total of 144 points during Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s 19-3 surge over the past two-plus decades.

“Just because of the close proximity we have with each town I think it makes it really unique in this day and age that you have something that’s lasted for 99 years in the landscape of high school football and high schools in general,” said Thoren. “When Gladbrook and Reinbeck combined that added a little bit of a different dynamic to it, but still the roots of the rivalry remained and it’s still there today.

“Our kids are super excited to play. We’re looking at this as, they’re the two-time defending state champions and we have an opportunity to go play them. Everything else, it is what it is, but I guess all the pomp and circumstance that’s going to be behind it, it’s going to be like a Homecoming game because of all the fanfare. There should be plenty of motivation for both sides … everybody’s got something to prove.”

Gladbrook-Reinbeck, which went 13-0 in 2016 on its way to its second-straight state title, last suffered defeat during Week 4 of the 2015 season at Denver. The Rebels rebounded to beat the Cyclones in the UNI-Dome in the state semifinals on their way to the program’s first football championship.

Olson hopes his players can put all the past successes on the back burner by the time kickoff rolls around, which will follow a drone photo of the field. Both schools have issued invitations to any former football players, coaches or cheerleaders to unite on the field prior to the game for the overhead image.

“Honestly I think you will see a very emotional, excited, loud crowd, but I don’t think you’re going to see any players any different than they’ve ever been,” Olson said. “The kids don’t know any different, even though we’ve talked to them about the history. It’s just Grundy Center versus Gladbrook-Reinbeck.”