Since 1898, Franklin College and Hanover College have battled it out on the football field to gain possession of the prestigious bell. And tomorrow will determine who gains possession of the bell when the Grizzlies and Panthers go head-to-head.
This year marks game 86 between Franklin and Hanover. There were years where there were no games due to wars and a 17-year drought from 1971 and 1987, but he rivalry was renewed in 1988 when Head Football Coach Mike Leonard had his first game as an assistant coach at Hanover.
Leonard previously coached at Hanover for 14 years, but made the switch to Franklin as head coach 14 years ago.
“The Franklin College athletic director called me Dec. 9, 2002, and asked if I would be interested in being the head coach,” Leonard said. “At first I was hesitant because I didn’t consider myself coaching material, but thank goodness he called. I’m very happy here.”
The crossover from Hanover to Franklin doesn’t end there. This year, Matthew Theobald, a 1996 Hanover graduate, reigns as the southern Indiana school’s new head football coach after previously serving as the assistant football coach at Franklin College from 2003 to 2015.
“It is exciting and nervous to return to Faught Stadium and play the Griz,” Theobald said. “I am sure there will be flood of emotions when I get back on campus because I have a ton of great memories at Franklin.”
Theobald hired four assistant coaches, who also have ties to Franklin College, because they all “share the same vision for what a football program should look like.”
Assistant coaches at Hanover are Jonny West, a 2014 Franklin graduate who coached from 2014 to 2015; Jeremy Parker, a 2015 Franklin graduate and 2014 Homecoming King; Matt Brown, Franklin’s offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015; and Aarik Gault, Franklin’s defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013.
“It’s adding more to the rivalry now because all our previous coaches are at Hanover and obviously we want to beat our old coaches,” senior Taylor Christensen said.
Recently, the bell game became the last regular season game of the year. The trophy, a bell, resides in the Spurlock Center and in 2015, Franklin College won the trophy for the one-hundredth time.
“It’s one of the most important games of the year,” Christensen said. “It’s a game that everyone looks forward to the most and we always want to keep the bell in our possession.”
The bell has another significance at Franklin College, Dean of Student Affairs Ellis Hall said. During the first weekend of the academic year and graduation day, bell ceremonies take place, where a replica of the Liberty Bell is rung.
“I spent 13 years at Franklin and helped build one of the better programs in the nation,” Theobald said. “Seeing those same guys playing against me will be hard because they have some talented guys.”
With the coaching changes, the dynamics have created a more intense feeling this year, and a great battle of two rival schools is approaching.
“If people want to see an inspirational type game, please come. Cheer loudly, have a blast and come on out to cheer on Franklin College,” Leonard said. “If we win, I would love to have students run to the field.”