Few things please a dedicated Academy Bumblebee or Rogers Eagle more than beating the other one in anything from football to marbles.
It’s one of those classic rivalries borne not as much by emotion and bragging rights as it is the actual outcomes. The short distance and the high familiarity between the communities give rise to that.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the rivalry — with notable exceptions, I’m sure — is that it doesn’t extend beyond the field or court of play. If and when there’s a serious need to be met in one or the other’s community, a willing helping hand usually extends itself.
When word got out that beloved and long-time Academy custodial supervisor Oscar Martinez had been diagnosed with leukemia, it didn’t take long for both schools to get in gear to help when Academy’s girls and boys basketball teams hosted Rogers on Friday.
“It’s a chance to help out a great man and a great family,” Academy athletic director Jared Hunt said. “When (Academy girls basketball coach) Brian Pursche came to me early on to have a benefit for Oscar, it was a no-brainer. When we were deciding on what game it should be, the immediate thought was Rogers. Rogers jumped right in. It’s uplifting and it tells you a lot about Mr. Martinez.”
The often intertwined communities aren’t shy about helping a neighbor and a friend. Most everybody knows most everybody.
“Oscar is gold to me,” said Rogers superintendent Joe Craig, who spent 15 years as an administrator at Academy before moving to Rogers two years ago. “He was my neighbor for five years. He is an indispensable pillar of the community.
“(The schools) have a rivalry, but it’s a sibling rivalry. You always want to beat your brother, but there’s still love and respect.”
Martinez began his employment with Academy in 2003, but his affiliation with the school and Little River-Academy began at birth. The 65-year-old Martinez grew up there, went to school and graduated in 1972. He played for some of the last football teams coached by John Glover, including the 9-3 team that won a bi-district playoff game in 1971.
Before he signed on to work at Academy, he owned a lawn care business. Oscar and his wife, Sandra, raised two sons, Jason and Damon, who went through the Academy school system. He’s been a fixture at Academy ISD board meetings for decades, attending for the purpose of staying informed on his school and town.
Martinez went on leave in October and officially retired at the end of 2019.
“You always want to use sports as a platform,” said Pursche, who is no stranger to compassionate acts.
Pursche’s team gave Jarrell players flowers during a pre-game ceremony in 2017 as a tribute to Lady Cougars volleyball coach Vicki Kieffer, who had died a few days earlier. Rogers players presented the Jarrell team with personalized sympathy cards when the teams met that season.
“It’s not just about wins and losses. It’s about life lessons. It’s about serving others,” Pursche said. “Oscar has always been there to help any time we needed something. He’s a good man and a man of faith.”
Spectators crowded the gym Friday in support of their teams and Martinez, with cakes and other goods auctioned to help lend financial support for medical expenses. Academy fans wore orange, the color for leukemia awareness.
“It’s really cool what sports can do outside the lines,” Hunt said. “(The rivalry) is friendly and it’s competitive. After it’s over, we can talk and hang out afterward. Even with the growth of Academy, it’s cool we still have that.”
Rogers has shared in key moments in Academy’s sports history before. When Academy officials named the football stadium named for Glover in the early 1990s, it was prior to a game against Rogers. In fact, Rogers coach Donald Godwin participated in the on-field ceremony.
Obviously, the gate receipts of a Rogers-Academy event will be stronger than most of their schools’ games. Many of the communities’ athletes play together in youth and club sports outside of school. No matter the sport, it’s a date circled on every Bumblebees and Eagles calendar.
In the case of Friday night, it was for a higher purpose than just the scoreboard.
“It’s a gathering of people, everybody coming together to do what’s right for people, for the community and for the kids,” Hunt said. “This time it’s to help out a great man and great family.”