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Rivals cordial in softball

Relationships between fans of rival schools are intriguing, particularly in the South.

We all know the Georgia football fan who wants Georgia Tech to lose to everybody. Or the large group of SEC fans who want Florida to lose every time out.

But the traditional hatred of your rival isn't always prevalent. In many instances, the bitter part of the rivalry comes from the fans and not from the players, who for the most part, get along.

The state fastpitch softball tournament is another reminder of that fact. Gwinnett teams generally root for other teams from the county, doing what they can to root their rival on to victory.

Gwinnett's two remaining teams in the Class AAAAA softball Elite Eight, rivals Collins Hill and North Gwinnett, are sharing a charter bus today to Columbus for the tourney. Can this be? Rivals on the same bus?

They're even staying in the same hotel. Something tells me Florida QB Chris Leak will not be staying down the hall from the Georgia defenders this weekend in Jacksonville.

All kidding aside, in high school sports at the local level it is different. The athletes may be rivals in high school, then teammates in club ball.

"It's Gwinnett County," said North softball coach Mike Cavey, who was asked about splitting the bus by Collins Hill softball coach Amy Cook. "That's the way I look at it and I'm sure that's the way Amy looks at it. We've got girls on our teams that know each other, grew up with each other.

"If another Gwinnett team's down there, we're going to be pulling for them. I'd love to see them in the championship game with us."

That attitude is refreshing to see. It also will happen this weekend in AA softball, where three of the final eight teams are from Gwinnett - Buford, Greater Atlanta Christian and Wesleyan.

Fans, players and coaches of the three AA schools cheered hard for the others at sectionals last weekend. More of the same is expected this weekend. The coaches even have conferred between games - as Buford's Brandon Manders and GAC's Judy Tenney did last weekend - with scouting reports on non-Gwinnett opposition.

The cordial rivalries allow for teams like Collins Hill and North to share a bus ride. Cavey doesn't expect a stern, quiet trip today. Probably more like teenage girls chatting away.

"I think there will be lots of conversation, hopefully some talk about softball," the North coach said. "We've played Starr's Mill (Collins Hill's first-round foe) and they've played Union Grove (North's first-round foe) like we have. Maybe they'll talk about the teams we play and it will help out."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.