Renewing the rivalry: Notre Dame, KCHS to meet Aug. 23

You can bet Bishop Stika will be pulling for the Fighting Irish as closely tied principals mull friendly wager

The Knoxville Catholic and Notre Dame high school football rivalry has been dormant for nine years, but the two Fighting Irish teams will renew acquaintances this season.

Knoxville Catholic hosts Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, in the season opener for both teams.

“When I coached back seven or eight years ago—that was a rivalry that you’d hate to lose,” said KCHS athletics director Jason Surlas. “We missed the rivalry because every game between Notre Dame and Catholic was always a good one, so we’re just happy to have it back.”

Notre Dame won the last meeting between the two schools 35-28 in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, ending an undefeated season for Knoxville Catholic. KCHS won the regular-season meeting 42-7 over Notre Dame in ’04. Knoxville Catholic also defeated NDHS in 2002-03, while the Chattanoogans triumphed six out of seven times from 1995-2001. The series also had hiatuses from 1991-94 and 1968-86.

Notre Dame and KCHS were in the same private-school division when the schools last met on the football field. Knoxville Catholic moved into the public-school division and eventually rose to Class 5A out of six classifications. For KCHS, having a heavy slate of district competition and keeping local rival Webb on the schedule made it hard to fit in Notre Dame once the latter became a non-district opponent, Mr. Surlas said.

“We got reclassified. When we played [Notre Dame] all the time, we were in the same division,” he said. “We got reclassified twice, and we left the private school division, and it made it too hard with scheduling. We were always in a district that had a large number of teams, so we never had a lot of wiggle room with non-district opponents.

“Filling the schedule is difficult in a lot of cases, and I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to fill the schedule. I would say that is the No. 1 reason [for the KCHS-NDHS hiatus]—we left the private school division.”

Knoxville Catholic has been reclassified to 4A for 2013-17, while Notre Dame drops from 4A to 3A.

Notre Dame athletics director Howie Sompayrac said the resumption of the Knoxville Catholic rivalry “is exciting for us.”

“It’s one of those situations where being in a smaller classification, and with Catholic coming down from 5A football, we feel like it’s kind of win-win,” he said. “If we win, we feel like we’re beating a bigger program that recently won a state title [2008], and it’d be a huge feather in our cap ultimately. If we don’t win, we get a good gauge of where we are and will get ready for our district opponents, and we don’t feel like we’re going to play anybody all year that’s tougher than Catholic.”

Mr. Sompayrac said he expects “a good crowd to come up” from Notre Dame for the game.

“It should be a fun night, and ultimately I think that any time you can bring the Catholic community together in our diocese, it’s a positive thing,” he said.

The rivalry game brings together again the high schools’ leaders, Notre Dame’s new president George Valadie and Knoxville Catholic’s Dickie Sompayrac.

Mr. Valadie and Mr. Sompayrac are both graduates of Notre Dame, and Mr. Valadie coached Mr. Sompayrac in freshman football, basketball and baseball. He also coached Howie Sompayrac, brother of Dickie Sompayrac.

In later years, Mr. Valadie worked with Dickie Sompayrac as teachers and coaches.

As the rivalry is renewed, Mr. Valadie said there could be a friendly wager involved in the Aug. 23 contest.

“He’ll have a hard time cheering against his alma mater,” Mr. Valadie said jokingly of Mr. Sompayrac. “The bishop gets off easy because he can just wear a green shirt.”