Before the players made their way through the handshake line at the end of last Friday's game at Ooltewah, public-address announcer Steve Ray began pumping up tonight's "Battle of White Oak Mountain."
Owls coach Shannon Williams said murmurs of excitement leading up to the first high school football game between East Hamilton and host Ooltewah began way before Ray's announcement. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
"It's been crazy," Williams said. "This has been going on since we got back in school."
Not long ago Ooltewah was the most populated high school in Hamilton County. East Hamilton Middle/High School was built in East Brainerd on the southeast end of the former Ooltewah zone to help alleviate the overcrowding problem. The school opened three years ago, so many members of East Hamilton's senior class had been freshmen at Ooltewah.
Another twist about the first football meeting between the schools is that Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood is returning to the place where he used to be the head coach and later returned as an assistant. Someone should make sure he makes it over to the visitors side tonight.
"It's going to be unique," Gatewood said. "It will be a totally different perspective."
Officials at both schools said the game is a hot topic among the students this week. East Hamilton athletic director Brad Jackson let it be known that the Hurricanes coaching staff is pretty worked up, too.
"I think it's good for high school football," Gatewood said. "These kids go to church together. They've grown up together. It's really going to be a neighborhood rivalry.
"If we need to hype this game, we need to check and see if we have a pulse."
A large crowd is expected and Ooltewah has been selling tickets in advance and forwarded some so East Hamilton could do the same. Williams said there will be a second ticket gate at the stadium tonight.
"If you want a seat, come early," Williams said. "I have a feeling we could set an attendance record. It will be fun for the players to play in front of a packed house. Both sides deserve to play in front of a great crowd."
Williams and Gatewood are offensive line coaches at heart and worked together under now-retired Benny Monroe as Ooltewah reached a Class 5A semifinal in 2008. They remain friends and hope the first East Hamilton-Ooltewah game is the first of many. Only a game next year at East Hamilton is guaranteed at this point.
"It's just a game we both need to play," Williams said. "It's going to be great for both schools. It would be a great crowd every year."
Ooltewah principal Mark Bean spoke to his students this week about the type of conduct they should exhibit in the first Battle of White Oak Mountain. He's looking forward to a long, healthy and friendly rivalry with the Hurricanes and wants it to get off to a good start.
"We wish them the best of luck," Bean said, "except when they play the Owls."
Gatewood said he and Ray remain good friends and he still trades at Ray's place of business. But like Bean ...
"I'll pull for them every week but one," Gatewood said. "This week is that week."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.