The neighborhood football rivalry between East Hamilton and Ooltewah that’s about to begin will forever pit friend against friend, but tonight may be the only time it will pit brother against brother.
Senior T.J. Warren is a wide receiver at Ooltewah, which is hosting the first meeting between the high school programs tonight at 7:30. Junior Harrison Warren is a linebacker at East Hamilton.
The brothers, who are 17 months apart, attended Ooltewah Middle School and played football together for two years there. Harrison left Ooltewah when East Hamilton opened in 2009, but T.J. chose to stay.
These seniors are the last class who had their choice to stay at Ooltewah, regardless if they were zoned for East Hamilton.
The brothers’ mother, Angela, who is a track and field coach at Ooltewah, said T.J.’s reasons for staying were twofold. He liked the school’s ROTC program, and he wanted the chance to play football for legendary coach Benny Monroe, who ended up retiring before last season.
As a result, they have one opportunity to square off against each other.
“I know he’s going to want to catch me on a slant,” T.J. said. “Probably a couple of times we’ll take plays off just to hit each other.”
Until then, verbal jabs have to suffice.
“We’ve both been taking shots at each other,” Harrison said. “As it gets closer to the game, we nibble at each other a little more. It’s between schools, so really all of us have been talking smack.”
While it may seem like parents would dread such a scenario, the Warrens are looking at the positive side of things. Usually when Angela is at either Ooltewah’s or East Hamilton’s game, husband Tommy is at the other.
“Actually it’s going to be kind of neat,” Angela said. “We get to sit in the stands together and watch the boys play at one time.”
The Warrens have family coming in for the weekend, and the entire clan will be easy to spot at the game. They had T-shirts made with the phrase “A house divided” across the front.
The shirts include the design of a house with a split roof with “Owls” on one side and “’Canes” on the other. Underneath the respective sides are T.J.’s No. 11 and Harrison’s No. 17. Even the letters in the Warren name are split with the front half in Ooltewah red and the back end in East Hamilton green.
Tommy works to prepare the field for Ooltewah home games and is part of the chain-gang crew at East Hamilton. Therefore, remaining neutral is important so as not to lose status at either place.
“I want them both to win,” Angela said. “I don’t even know if I can watch it. I just hope we get through the game with no one getting hurt.”
Not surprisingly, both T.J. and Harrison are predicting victory. But they have thought about the consequence of losing.
“I’d be happy for my brother,” T.J. said. “It would hurt me more for my team.”
Said Harrison: “It’s family. We’re always going to love each other. But it would never really go away.”
Their parents say they’re braced for the inevitable fate awaiting one of their sons. Anyone old enough to remember the 1980 commercial about a father consoling his son after losing a hockey match understands the spot Tommy is about to be in.
“Lifesavers have already been bought,” he said.
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.