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Post 81’s Bryson Marley's hit drops in safely against Post 45 on Thursday in Ramseur.    Eric Abernathy/Randolph Hub

Where has the rivalary gone?

ASHEBORO — In the past, perhaps so long ago there are many who follow American Legion baseball now in Randolph County who don’t remember, the mere mention of a game pitting Asheboro/Randolph Post 45 against Eastern Randolph/Liberty Post 81/125 would have the effect of a high school football game in Texas.


Whether it be at McCrary Park in Asheboro, home of Post 45, or at Eastern Randolph High School in Ramseur, home of Post 81, the stands would be full and fold-out chairs could be seen on top of the old hill at McCrary or along the basepaths at ERHS. There were games when another person couldn’t be jammed into the venue.


The names and post numbers may have changed, but the intensity level never did.


But because of a number of circumstances in Legion baseball, the days of the local rivalry between the two programs has become, as Post 45 head coach Ronnie Pugh said, “just another game for both teams on the schedule.”

A rivalry that was as thick as Duke and North Carolina has for the most part disappeared, more than likely never to reach the fever pitch it had so many years ago.

“Things have definitely changed,” Pugh said late last week after Post 45 defeated Chatham Central 5-3, one night after posting a 6-4 eight-inning win over Liberty Post 81.  “The big rivalry thing kind of went the way of Charlie Robbins and Grady Lawson. 


“Now the kids play together so much and see each other, they all play in the same conference. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to that again. It’s just another game for both teams on the schedule.”


There are definitely reasons.


Other summer options for players; the love, honor, prestige and expectancy of playing for YOUR Legion post is not nearly as prevalent as it once was; and the decrease in the number of teams in Legion overall has affected rivalries.


In order to fill a schedule, teams will now play league opponents in non-league action as well, meaning a highly anticipated matchup just twice a summer has turned into a four-game meeting schedule or sometimes even more games each season, diluting the importance of each battle.


“Now there are so many more options for these kids,” Pugh said. “That has affected it. You could play them one night and play them a few nights later and it's a totally different team. That has changed.”


Post 81 head coach Nathan Cockman experienced the rivalry first as a player for Eastern Randolph, back when it was considered a strong rivalry, and now as the head coach for the program.


“It was something on the schedule that you looked forward to,” Cockman said of his playing days with Post 81. “You wanted to have the best players and the best schools between the programs. We could not have won a single game all season, but that is the game you just took a lot of pride in. 


“These young guys don’t quite understand what it meant to play American Legion baseball for Post 45 or Post 81,” Cockman said. “That’s what we talked about (Thursday) night. A lot of them don't understand the history of the American Legion and Post 45 and Post 81. We talked about that history.”


Of course, when you have players who attend or attended Eastern Randolph High School — Post 81’s base school — now playing for Post 45 and players who attended or are attending Asheboro High School, Southwestern Randolph High School or Randleman High School — Post 45 territorial schools — playing for Post 81, things get a little watered down … if not confusing.


“More than anything, kids know each other and go to the same school,” Pugh said. “We had kids on both teams that go to school together and play high school together. It’s definitely changed for the people who have seen it through the years.”


One thing that hasn’t changed is the community support for both programs remains at a high level. The Kiwanis Club of Asheboro continues to sponsor Post 45, while Liberty Post 81 continues its sponsorship, electing to take the name Liberty, where the actual post is located. 


“If you look at the attendance numbers and the talent level, it speaks volumes for the community in Randolph County, who want to see the programs grow,” Cockman said. “Ronnie has done a great job in that part of the county and that’s what we’re going after on our side of the county. Our community has done an incredible job over the years supporting us.”


The two programs were scheduled to meet three times in Northern Division play this year. Post 45 earned a thrilling 6-4 win in eight innings on June 13. The two met again this past Monday night and they are scheduled to wrap up their regular-season series on June 24. 


It may not have the same level of intensity, but beating a program so close is still important.


“It’s just how close everyone is,” Cockman said. “You can go into a restaurant and see a player from Post 45 and a player from Post 81. When you see them on the field, there’s just more on the line.”