Pete Cooper doesn’t remember the player’s name, but he remembers the situation. Then the head football coach at Lawrence High School, Cooper was coaching the East squad in one of the early Maine Shrine Lobster Bowls. The team trained at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. After practice one day, players and coaches chatted in the dormitory lounge. The player from Winslow made a confession to Cooper.

“He said, ‘When I was growing up, I hated your guts. But you’re not such a bad guy,'” Cooper recalled. “Biddeford-Thornton Academy was probably the biggest rivalry in the state, but Lawrence-Winslow was pretty close.”

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, the Lawrence-Winslow football rivalry was as intense as rivalries came. It was so heated that, even though Lawrence has lights at Keyes Field, the game was still played on Saturday afternoon to limit hostile shenanigans between the fan bases.

Then, it was gone. Winslow had played up a class as a small Class A school. With the start of the 1991 season, the Black Raiders played in Class B. With schedules built around Class divisions, the Lawrence-Winslow rivalry was set aside. A generation grew up with stories of the close games and big crowds. New stories were not written.

Until now.

This season, in an effort to create more competitive balance, the Maine Principals’ Association encouraged the high school football community to play more out of conference games. All Winslow and Lawrence needed was that push. Friday night at Keyes Field, the Black Raiders and Bulldogs will play their first countable game in 27 years. The schools are slightly more than four miles apart. For almost three decades, that geographical proximity couldn’t overcome a preference for conference scheduling.

The teams did scrimmage each other occasionally. Mike Siviski, Winslow head coach since 1985, said those scrimmages against Lawrence often were the most hard-hitting games his Black Raiders played all season.

“There’s been a void in our schedule since 1990, and it’s never been replaced,” Jim Poulin, a Winslow native and former defensive coordinator for the Black Raiders, said.

According to records kept by Winslow sports historian Ray “Pop” Vear and published as “Winslow High School Football, 1922-2007,” the Black Raiders lead the all-time series with Lawrence, 42-19, with five ties. The teams haven’t played each other since the regular-season finale in 1990, won by Lawrence 24-8. Winslow’s cushion in the all-time record was built in the early days. In the final 15 seasons of the series, 1976-1990, including playoff games, Winslow won nine, Lawrence won eight, and there was one tie.

INTENSITY GROWS

Throughout the years, the rivalry went through different stages, but it was always intense. Wally LaFountain was head coach at Winslow from 1958-68. LaFountain’s predecessor at Winslow was Dick McGee, who went on to coach Lawrence. LaFountain recalled beating Lawrence and McGee, 15-12, in 1958, his first season at Winslow. After the game, McGee, who was still close to many Winslow players, asked to speak to the Black Raiders and offer congratulations.

“They were typically close (games). Our kids loved to play Lawrence,” LaFountain said.

Added Ted Huard, a senior on LaFountain’s first Winslow team: “It was quite a celebration for us. It was like winning a state championship.”

In 1969, Pete Cooper became Lawrence’s head coach. That same season, Harold “Tank” Violette was named head coach at Winslow. The men became great friends off the field. On it, their teams adopted the competitive fire of their coaches. I’ll be your best friend every other day of the week, Violette would say to Cooper, but on Saturday, I want to kick your butt. Violette died in August 2015. His pregame speeches, particularly before Lawrence games, became legendary.

“I’d stand and lean against the wall as he was talking to the kids,” Poulin, an assistant coach on Violette’s staff, said. “They’re shaking. I’m shaking. I’d want to grab the last kid and take his uniform because I was fired up to play.”

Poulin thinks Winslow’s Class B state championship in 1973 ratcheted up the intensity in what was already a fierce rivalry. Winslow players found a piece of paper that outlined Lawrence’s goals for the season. The first was to win a state title. No. 2 was beat Winslow. Violette and his assistants used that as motivation against the Bulldogs.

“It kindled the fire. They became our No. 2 objective (after winning a state title),” Poulin said. “We’d tell them they (Lawrence) don’t respect you enough to make you their No. 1 priority.”

When they played at Winslow’s Poulin Field (named for Poulin’s father), the Bulldogs’ bus would cross the Kennebec River in downtown Fairfield, then turn right on to Benton Avenue in Benton. As they rode through Benton, they’d see homes decorated in blue and gray. They didn’t need to see the street sign signifying the Winslow town line. When the decorations became orange and black, the Bulldogs knew they were in Winslow, Cooper said.

A SPECIAL RIVALRY

What made the rivalry special wasn’t the community’s differences. It was the similarities. Both schools represented blue collar towns defined by their mills. Families from both schools worked at Keyes Fiber and Scott Paper, two of the region’s largest employers. The rivalry was everywhere. At Keyes Fiber, an industrial sweeper was painted blue and gray if Lawrence beat Winslow. If the Black Raiders won, it was painted orange and black. It stayed those colors all year, until the next game. When you lined up across the field, you saw yourself.

“You’re looking in the mirror. You see the same type of community,” Poulin said.

Mike Mealey graduated from Lawrence in 1970, and was a senior on Cooper’s first Lawrence team. After graduating high school, Mealey went on to play football at the University of Maine. He was an assistant coach at Lawrence for years.

“As a player, it was no fun going over (to Winslow). They’d blow the stacks at 12:30, and we couldn’t breathe,” Mealey said. “You know, I hated Winslow. I don’t want to say hate, but I did. Now, once you get to know them, they’re nice guys, just like us… We had some hellacious games with them.”

The biggest Winslow-Lawrence game was arguably the 1984 regular season finale. Both teams entered the game undefeated. Cooper remembers Mt. Blue and Waterville moving the kickoff time of their game that day to 10 a.m., so Mt. Blue coaches could get to Fairfield and scout for the upcoming Pine Tree Conference playoffs. Winslow won, 14-9, snapping Lawrence’s 19-game win streak.

“A couple weeks later, we turned the tables on them up at Colby,” Cooper said.

Cooper refers to the Class B state championship game, won by Lawrence at Colby College, 21-7. Winslow and Lawrence met in the state championship game again in 1986. This time, the Black Raiders took it, 29-6, after losing to the Bulldogs in the regular season. In 1988, the teams met in the PTC championship game again. This time, it was for the Eastern Maine Class A title instead of the Class B state crown. As in 1986, Lawrence won after dropping the regular season game. The score was 7-6. There are still Winslow fans who swear Lawrence running back Kirk Mathieu stepped out of bounds on his way to the end zone for the Bulldogs’ lone score. Cooper still swears that never happened.

The players who will take the field Friday night only have the stories to go by. The rivalry was put on hold long before any of them were born. It’s in the institutional memory of the communities. The new players don’t need to be told it’s a big game. They know. In the preseason, Lawrence coach John Hersom said he hadn’t even brought up the Winslow game, but he could tell his players were eager for it.

“That will just take care of itself,” Hersom said.

Cooper won’t be at Keyes Field on Friday night. He’ll be in Standish, watching his son Kevin coach Bonny Eagle. That said, a piece of Cooper will be in Fairfield. He’s glad to see the rivalry back.

“They were always in the back of our minds,” Cooper said. “It was always Winslow, Winslow, Winslow, and I’m sure it was the same for those guys.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM