Calvin-Hope not just a local rivalry
Players, fans embrace passion and intensity around the world
It's not just a rivalry. It is “The” Rivalry.
Calvin and Hope are Division III colleges located just 30 miles apart in Western Michigan and have an enrollment of less than 7,500 students between them. But the fan following for this small college basketball rivalry reaches far beyond the suburbs of Grand Rapids.
Rooted in the historical separation of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church, the basketball rivalry has been going strong for 90 years, and was even rated as the No. 4 basketball rivalry behind Duke-North Carolina, Tennessee-Connecticut (women) and Louisville-Kentucky by national publications in recent years.
The men’s teams meet twice a year with one weekend game broadcast not just regionally, but beamed by satellite to parties of Hope-Calvin alumni around the world. The two alumni associations have teamed up for this joint venture for 13 years, and have gone from coordinating 24 gathering sites in 1999 to 80 sites this season.
While the state of Michigan will host almost 20 sites, the game will also be shown across the nation from Massachusetts to California and adds three international gatherings -- Japan, England and Spain.
“The remote sites provide a terrific time of seeing old friends and making new ones; despite the fact that Calvin and Hope are intense rivals in all athletic competitions, the alumni of both schools know and admire many on ‘the other side’ of the aisle,” Calvin Alumni Association Executive Director Michael Van Denend said.
“The alumni programs are really in full bore at each institution and I think they generate great enthusiasm around the world for these events,” Hope head coach Matt Neil said. “It is neat for our players to know that so many people care about this basketball game.”
Dr. Leland Webb, a 2002 Hope graduate, is now a General Surgeon for the U.S. Air Force and living with his wife Sarah (also a Hope alum) and children at the Yokota Air Base in Japan. At the church the family attends, Webb met one of the commanders of the medical group, who attended Calvin -- and immediately there was talk of “The” Rivalry.
Despite a 14-hour time difference, in the wee hours of the morning on Feb. 12 in Japan, Webb and the others will be watching the Calvin-Hope game that will be played locally in Grand Rapids on Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. ET.
“We've lived lots of places since leaving Hope ... Detroit, Australia, Austria, Nashville, Tokyo … and we find people everywhere,” Webb said. “They are just as enthusiastic as we are. The ability to be connected to the game is great, and the schools do an awesome job of getting the rivalry pumped into cities all over so that we can come together, bond as rivals.”
Unlike some collegiate rivalries that get a little tense at times, Calvin-Hope is quite friendly.
“Certainly we want to beat each other more than anyone else on our schedule, but I talk to coach Neil about every week,” Calvin head coach Kevin Vande Steek said. “We’ve had guys that played basketball together in high school, we’ve had guys that have stood up at each other’s weddings and guys that have gone to the same church. It’s a more brotherly rivalry.”
“It’s very personal and indicative of the culture in Western Michigan,” Neil said. “It’s a close-knit group in the area.”
Both head coaches have experienced memorable moments during Calvin-Hope games. Neil played for Hope and served as an assistant coach for several years until taking the helm of the program last season. He was a freshman in 1978 and a member of the school’s junior varsity squad.
“We had nearly 5,000 people at the JV game because the varsity game was right after it – that was quite remarkable,” Neil said.
Neil’s first victory as a head coach in the rivalry is also a moment he will never forget. It was the second regular-season meeting last year, and Calvin had won the first matchup.
“We were down 18 points in the first half at their place, and came back to win the game by six points,” Neil said. “My team showed incredible passion and never gave up. That will always be something very special to me.”
One of the games in Vande Steek’s first season not only stands out for him personally, but is a highlight of the entire series. In 1997, the game attracted an NCAA Division III single-game attendance record with a capacity crowd of 11,442 fans.
|CALVIN-HOPE SERIES FACTS|
|The men's basketball teams have met six times in the NCAA tournament with Calvin winning four times -- 92-90 in OT in 1987; 95-68 in 1990; 84-79 in OT in 1991; and 91-88 in 1992. Hope posted back-to-back postseason victories in 2006 (70-67) and 2007 (80-64).|
|The Jan. 29, 1997 game was playted at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., and ended in a 70-56 Hope triumph. The teams played before an NCAA Division III single-game record crowd of 11,442.|
|Calvin finished with a perfect 21-0 record against Hope in the 1970s.|
|For more info on the series and the women's series, check out "The" Rivalry website.|
“My first year here we played the game in the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids and sold out almost 12,000 tickets in about a month – that’s unheard of in small college basketball, and even in Division I mid-majors,” Vande Steek said.
Breaking down the rivalry down by the numbers, Hope leads the all-time series 93-87, while just 111 points separate the teams across 180 games – only a 0.617 point differential per game.
The two programs have been successful outside of the rivalry through the years.
Since 1953, when Calvin joined the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, there have been only four times when either Calvin, Hope or both teams did not lay claim to the league championship. Both teams have also advanced to the NCAA Division III championship game twice. Calvin won the title in 1992 and 2000, while Hope was the runner-up in 1996 and 1998.
“It is remarkable how close the numbers are,” Neil said.
Hope defeated Calvin 81-65 in the first meeting in Holland, Mich., earlier this season. Entering this week, the Flying Dutchmen (20-1) are ranked No. 2 nationally and unbeaten in MIAA play, while the Knights (11-10) are 6-4 in league action and looking to pull off a stunner on Saturday in the next edition of “The” Rivalry.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Vande Steek said. “To a certain extent, you’re glad when it’s over. There’s so much hype and so much talk … it is all anyone at church or school or the gas station wants to talk about. It’s a fun experience.”
But the results of the game Saturday will be just a small part of what makes this one of the best rivalries in basketball.
“The intensity of it goes far beyond the court,” Neil said. “Neighbors and friends, people from Western Michigan and across the globe identify it as being the premiere rivalry in Division III.”
“I have met more Hope and Calvin grads around the world than I ever imagined, especially for two small schools,” Webb said. “The two schools share so much in common -- size, beliefs, excellence and a family-like environment -- that we grew attached to our school, more than just a name and T-shirt, but a family and network.
“It's hard to explain, but small schools sometimes produce the most pride, the biggest rivalries and best competition.”