ST. CLAIRSVILLE - While en route to Saturday's Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys' Basketball Class AAAA championship game Saturday at Ohio University Eastern, I got to thinking about how bitter the rivalry between John Marshall and Wheeling Park once was. Don't forget, there was a time in the 1990s when the Monarchs refused to play the Patriots during the regular season on the premise that Park just so happened to be getting foreign exchange students on a regular basis who were 6-foot-6 and could dunk a basketball.
And, of course, there was the little thing about Danny Blankenship, son of JM girls' coach Stan Blankenship, deciding to attend Park after his stint at what was then known as Moundsville Junior High.
Those were the days when Wheeling Park coach Sam Andy seemed to chirp the Monarchs any chance he could.
''I think Sam added some fuel to the fire over the years. We all know that,'' Patriots coach Michael Jebbia, a former player under Andy, said with a chuckle.
But lately, I thought, 'things sure have died down.' What once bordered on mutual hatred was suddenly as close to just another game on the schedule as something of this magnitude could be.
That kind of thought won't soon creep in anyone's mind again, not after the fire was re-stoked at the 5:53 mark of the third quarter when the Patriots' Vondel Bell and the Monarchs' Luke Martin almost came to blows near the John Marshall student section and were assessed technical fouls.
''The frustrating thing about that, and you can put this in if you want, (is) we told the referee at the beginning of the game to watch No. 12 (Bell) because he had threatened one of the Martins and said he was going to do something to him,'' John Marshall coach Bill Storm said. ''Then No. 12 was involved in the fight.
''Evidently the sparks are still there.''
Jebbia is probably the anti-Andy. Where Sam had no problem saying whatever happened to be on his mind, Jebbia has always been a bit more politically correct, if you will.
But Saturday he put to bed the notion that just because he doesn't talk the talk, doesn't mean he's any less intense, with this gem that sounded as if it could have come from Andy's mouth:
''If you look at the overall series, that win made it 81-11,'' he said. ''We've had some success against them with some other sports, so there may be some buildup.
''This rivalry's been one-sided, obviously. And our kids know it, too.''
And in case Jebbia ever forgets what it means to beat the Monarchs, he'll have Andy right there to remind him like he's done in the past. Jebbia remembered being kidded by Andy that ''we've got 11 losses to them, and three of them you had in one season.''
With the way things work these days, the angst is more likely to grow than it is to dissipate. These teams have met at least three times, and sometimes four, the last couple of years and the kids see each other most of the year.
''The times have changed. Everything is so mobile with the Internet, so they might know each other from different things,'' Storm said. ''Playing 3-4 times, that's probably the only drawback of this OVAC Tournament.
''You don't want to play anybody three times, especially Wheeling Park.''
The Patriots have won the last three OVAC titles, all at the expense of the Monarchs. Forget the way Jebbia looks and how he talks, he's counting.
''We made a pact in 2008 (when) they beat us in the sectional, that it's not going to happen again for a long, long time,'' Jebbia said. ''This was 10 in a row and we're going to try to keep building.
''Their basketball program is going in the right direction, but we just want to keep coming out on top.''
I'm going to start camping out today for the sectional.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.