HAMMOND | Whiting and the Clark set foot on a different collision course before facing each other on the gridiron for the 80th time since 1934.
Whiting Lion's Club member Andy Dybel is part of group that organized an annual barbecue Thursday, which this year is two days before the "Battle of 119th Street."
"I was hoping they would both get here at the same time," he said. "Something must be holding Clark up ... they should have been here by now. I guess they won't get to eat first."
The Pioneers wouldn't eat first, anyway. That was determined last season when the Oilers won handily in the annual prep football game. The winning team from the year before gets the initial run at the brats and burgers.
Whiting coach Victor Sahagun and senior lineman Matt Wooden were the first to dig in. Considering the imposing size of Sahagun, it was no surprise no one dared to cut in front of him.
Sahagun has been coaching with the team since he graduated in 2005.
He and all of the Oliers players came dressed for dinner with T-shirts with the cryptic message "Live It 41" on the back.
"Forty-one is the number of our sectional; last year, West Central won it," Sahagun said of Whiting's only loss last season. "This year we're determined to win it ourselves."
The traveling trophy the teams vie for was conceived in 2010, though the Oilers and Pioneers obviously have been battling for much longer. Going into today's season opener at Whiting's newly field turfed Ray Gallivan Stadium, the Pioneers were leading the series 39-34-6 – the Oilers had a 2-1 edge in trophy ownership.
The series is tied with Griffith-Lowell for second in both the longest current continuous rivalry and all-time continuous rivalry in Indiana. The Plymouth-Warsaw is longer in both categories by three years.
Three years ago to add a little flavor to the "Battle", Dybel decided to include a barbecue.
"The last two we held along Atchison Avenue because that's where the Whiting-Hammond border is," Dybel said. "From opposite ends of 119th, the two teams take police escorts to this border."
This year due to construction on Atchison, the "Battle of 119th Street Barbecue" was actually held on a closed-out section of 119th Street and in the adjacent Whiting Knights of Columbus parking lot.
To note, the Pioneers didn't pass on the free meal; they just showed up fashionably late while singing the school's fight song in mass as they marched down the street from their school.
Clark alumnus George Janec, who is confined to a wheelchair, was there to welcome them to dinner.
"I wouldn't call myself a rabid supporter," said Janec, who is a 1968 Clark grad, "but now that I'm retired and on the Hammond School Board, I have more reason to follow the team."
As been the case at previous barbecues, Dybel was able to procure a dinner guest from the Bears Super Bowl XX championship team. For this year, it was former tight end Emery Moorehead.
The traveling trophy consists of a simple multi-level base and a street-sign pole listing the schools' names on one side, and the intersection of 119th and Atchison on the other. It may not rival the Vince Lombardi Trophy or Lord Stanley's Cup, but then again you get what you pay for.
"We commissioned a kid to come up with the design," Dybel said, "and for his services we paid him $119."