By PATRICK CASEY and REID TUCKER
Freeport and South Walton High Schools sit atop our Area 5 rivalry countdown as this week’s story wraps up a 10-week series for our choices of the fiercest match-ups after a look at athletic competition between Walton, Ponce de Leon, Paxton, Freeport and South Walton.
No 1 – Freeport vs South Walton
Though this rivalry has barely existed for a decade as of the 2011-12 school year, it tends to be quite passionate between the two schools that are 13 miles apart. South Walton is the larger of the two schools, holding a 600-342 advantage in student population as of October 2010. What the Bulldogs lack in quantity, they make up in quality as the older school owns a significant lead in athletics, especially in the sports of football, boys basketball and volleyball.
Freeport holds a 6-0 mark in football against South Walton since the series began in 2003 with a two-year break in the series during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Seahawks were on the cusp of victories in 2004 and 2006 only to see the Bulldogs pull out wins both times. Those two games were the closest in the series and Freeport has won the past two seasons by a combined total of 58-21. The two teams will meet in Freeport on Sept. 9 to renew the rivalry in 2011.
Freeport holds a 16-1 advantage in boys basketball since the two teams began playing in the 2002-03 season. Freeport won the first 15 games in the series before the Seahawks broke through with an 83-78 victory at home on Dec. 10, 2009. Like Jim Anderson’s football squad, basketball coach David Burke has seen his troops find an extra gear to limit the damage to a single loss to their county rival.
The Freeport volleyball team holds a similar 15-1 mark against South Walton in volleyball since the 2003 season. The Seahawks have struggled to establish the volleyball program since its inception at the school and their lone win over the Bulldogs came in a four-set match at South Walton High School on Sept. 13, 2005.
The Seahawks have thrived in girls basketball as Kevin Craig’s teams are responsible for most of the 14-4 record against Freeport since the series began in 2003-04. South Walton has won eight straight in the series entering the 2011-12 season and none of the contests have been decided by a single digit margin. Freeport has often struggled with a lack of size on the interior and teams like South Walton, Walton and Ponce de Leon have taken advantage to post a multitude of victories.
The softball series since 2004 saw Freeport win the first seven games in the series only to see the Seahawks take 14 of the next 16 meetings. The two teams have split the last four games but South Walton holds a 14-9 edge since the 2004 season. The softball games between these two schools have made for some of the best rivalry competition though each team has been dominant in different years against the other.
The baseball series between the two schools has been quite competitive with the Bulldogs holding a 9-6 advantage. The Seahawks have won four of the last five games after the Bulldogs captured five straight in the series beginning in 2004. The two teams split a pair of games by identical 4-3 scores in 2011. Both baseball programs have seen the competition level increase in recent years and Freeport’s Shaun Arntz and South Walton’s Nick Borthwick are two young coaches that could square off on the diamond for years to come.
The soccer rivalry between Freeport and South Walton has seen the Seahawks capture the last three games in the series and hold a 4-1-1 edge in six meetings since the 2006-07 season. Despite their close proximity to each other, the two squads have often wound up in separate soccer districts with head-to-head meetings a bit sporadic between the two schools in this sport. The first meeting between these two teams resulted in a 3-3 tie on Dec. 12, 2006.
Freeport has had some solid tennis players in recent years but South Walton has had an edge in the sport, especially on the girls side. The Seahawks have also had an advantage in golf the last couple of years and in track. Freeport has gotten solid performances from Michael Graziani in cross country with the South Walton cross country teams also performing to high standards. The two schools are often in different classifications in those sports because of the student population difference between the two schools.
In 2011, Freeport and South Walton will share the same district in volleyball, but not many other sports. The two teams traditionally schedule each other in most sports as a 13-mile road game appeals to each side but distance is not always the deciding factor. As with many of our area rivalries, each school has a few sports that are a strength and a few sports that could benefit from better performances.
This week’s story concludes our look at area rivalries and seems to support the theory that heated rivalries are very much the product of consistent competition over a long period of time. As Paxton and Ponce de Leon do not field football teams, basketball seems to be the best measuring stick for all five schools on a yearly basis with each school having some success in the sport over their respective history. South Walton is still in the early development of their overall athletic program and the next 10 years will likely answer many questions about their growth potential. The biggest battle between Freeport and South Walton will likely be for pupils to choose one school over the other based on many other factors than athletic competition.
Note: As this ends our rivalry series we wish to mention that Freeport has a strong rivalry going with Northview in football and Jay in most other sports. South Walton and Baker have developed a fairly heated rivalry in football but the Seahawks have suffered in many other sports in forming solid rivalries due to the ever shifting districts in most of the other sports in which the school competes. Many of the Seahawks top rivalries will likely develop over the next decade and continued growth in the southern end of Walton County will likely see Walton and South Walton High Schools fight to be the largest high schools in the district.
Up Next: Summer ended for Walton County students on Monday. Let the 2011-12 games begin!