Tough rivalry between “next door neighbors” withstands time
November 30, 2010 • Patrick Miller, Assistant Sports Editor
Filed under Sports
In every sport there is a distinct rivalry between two teams. Few, however, come close to matching the intensity between the Howell Highlanders and the Brighton Bulldogs.
It’s been a question to many how the Howell/Brighton rivalry started. Some believe the animosity between the towns arose when Howell was chosen by the state as the county seat in the early 19th century.
Howell and Brighton began competing against each other in baseball in the 1880’s and continued until the late 1930’s.
Unfortunately, the games were halted because fighting and gambling between the two schools intensified.
“I remember residents would walk down Grand River and would make bets with shop owners before Howell and Brighton played each other,” long time Howell resident Duane Zemper said.
After a 40-year hiatus, the series resumed in 1977 as a non-league game.
“The resumption of the rivalry in 1977 was like getting to know a long lost cousin. You have to understand the two schools would never intermingle with each other – never. My mother who graduated from Howell in 1937 was not allowed to date anyone from Brighton, and this was not unusual for the times. In my high school years we never went to Brighton (except the old Brighton cinema) nor did you have any friends from Brighton,” 1979 Howell graduate Lindsay Root explained.
When Howell played Brighton in football that year, the Highlanders (6-3 record) earned the victory, winning 14-7. In 1978, Howell defeated the Bulldogs 27-7 at Page Field in downtown Howell and finished the season 8-1, becoming the league champs.
“Later on I learned Brighton players admitted our bagpipe core intimidated them at the start of those games. Back then, Howell had over 300 strong in the band with a really good bagpipe core. I’m sure other teams got de-spirited when the bagpipers showed up,” Mr. Root said.
At the time, Howell was part of the Capital Circuit Conference, which consisted of Okemos, Dewitt, Lansing Catholic, Eaton Rapids, Mason, Haslet and Charlotte. Fowlerville was the traditional last game of the year. It proved to be enjoyable for the players since they knew many of the Fowlerville players and coaches.
Then in 1980, the Kensington Valley Conference was created and the two schools were finally in the same league for the first time. Since then, Howell and Brighton have had many battles in athletics.
Now, they are both part of the west division of the KLAA Conference which includes Milford, Grand Blanc, Pinckney and Hartland.
Although rivalry between Howell and Brighton has always been intense, it has slightly changed over the years.
“The rivalry has always been fierce, but I would say today’s version is the best because the teams and towns respect each other better than in decades past. Some might dispute my “respect” comment, but you don’t have fighting or vandalism problems that were common in the 1930’s. Back then it was pure hate,” Mr. Root said.
Whenever Howell and Brighton played against each other there were several things at stake.
“Obviously there were bragging rights for whoever won. The rivalry was made bigger because the newspaper would interview the captains of each team and would write an article about the game. In football, the games were always close. Ironically, Howell and Brighton usually ended up playing for the district title so there was a lot on the line,” 1985 Howell graduate Brent Earl said.
The rivalry between these “next door neighbors” has had a long and bitter history, but has continued to display the spirit of true competition through the test of time.