The Cleveland High School (in gold jackets) and East Side High School marching bands merged during the halftime show at Delta State University. Credit: Photo by Rory Doyle

In May, a federal judge declared that, in order to achieve desegregation, Cleveland’s two high schools must merge. The initial timeline proposed in the judge’s decision, which is currently under appeal, calls for consolidation next year.

If that happens, the “Battle of 61” held last Friday at Delta State University may mark the end of a long and fierce tradition. The annual hometown rivalry draws its name from the U.S. highway that runs through Cleveland. In 27 meetings, 13 games have been won by 10 or fewer points.

This year, the East Side Trojans kept their flawless season record intact, though their 32-30 point lead was contested to the wire, preserved in some observers eyes by a series of calls by the referees. Less contentious was the half-time show, during which, in a show of unity, the school’s two marching bands merged into one.

Freelance photographer Rory Doyle, based in Cleveland, documented the game, capturing the potential end of a Delta ritual.

The court decision, filed in May, also calls for a “rebranding” of the new school. Though the specifics are undefined, it would almost certainly have to include a new logo and mascot and fresh colors.

If that happens before next fall, Cleveland High School’s lead in the series may stand forever at 16-11. Friday was the Trojan’s first victory over the Wildcats in four years.

For many in Cleveland, it’s the loss of identity that is the toughest pill to swallow.

“I grew up in a home where everybody had ties to East Side,” said Donna Lucas, a 1996 ESHS graduate. “I was bred among a whole family of Trojans. Trojan is a term that means pride to me.”

Lucas’s son graduated from her alma mater last year, but she said she’s come to grips with the fact that her two daughters will not. She teaches students from both schools at the Cleveland Career Development and Technology Center, and says she’s come to admire the Wildcat pride she’s observed.

“Their pride and our pride mixed together, I don’t think it’s going to be a bad thing in the long run.”

By Boyce Upholt, special for Mississippi Today

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