15th Street Rivalry

allison harwood

“You’re just jealous money can’t buy tradition.”
 
At the most recent LHS vs. Free State basketball game LHS proudly displayed a large banner reading those exact words. A saying such as this is typical of the cross town rivalry. Founded in 1857, LHS seems to enjoy pointing out how much longer they have been in Lawrence and how much more tradition they have. Free State students enjoy dishing it right back. 
 
An obvious explanation for the conflict is that there are only two high schools in town, therefore with no one else to rival the animosity between these two schools is strengthened. Still, there is an even deeper reason for the rivalry. 
 
When LHS was the only high school in Lawrence, they were a super power in the state of Kansas. In fact, LHS holds the record for the most state championships won in football.
 
“There were years when we (LHS) would win 4, 5, 6 state championships in a single year,” Free State teacher Sam Rabiola said. “And it was just a mindset that that would happen.”
 
Even though LHS was doing so well in not only athletics, but academics as well, the need for change was becoming very apparent. 
 
“You can’t even imagine what it was like to be at Lawrence High with 1,900 kids there,” Rabiola said. “Literally, you could not move through the halls without touching people all around. It was like swimming upstream in a river of bodies.” 
  
A bond issue in the early ’90s proposed that a second high school would be built and that ninth graders would be moved up to the high schools. This was rejected.
 
“It was asking the community to accept too much change,” Board of Education member Mary Loveland said.
 
Even though the community would not accept this proposal, the board tried out other ideas. Ideas of adding a third floor to LHS and putting freshmen and sophomores in one building and juniors and seniors in another were both discussed. However, adding on a third floor was not structurally possible and having two separate buildings would complicate things like advanced classes so both ideas were rejected.
 
In the end, a second proposal was made that kept the ninth graders at the junior high, but built a second high school. The boundary line was 15th Street.
 
“There was a lot of concern of creating a rich school and a poor school,” Loveland said. “We had this theory that if you had a boundary line that went down 15th Street, you would have a good mix.”
 
While this bond issue was more popular than the first, it still faced some opposition.
 
“There were a few die hard LHS people that fought it,” LHS football coach Dirk Wedd said.
 
When Free State first opened, it had a senior class of about 100. Because of the small class size, Free State did not pose as a rival to LHS at first.
 
“We were so small that we would just get pounded,” Rabiola said. “So it’s not like we were a threat athletically from the get go.” 
 
Once Free State started getting larger, athletics and every other program at Free State started to become a real threat to LHS. The result is what people see as the rivalry today.
 
“The best way I’ve heard the split described is like it was a divorce,” Rabiola said. “LHS was the half of the couple who was left behind. They got stuck with the house and the old furniture. Free State was the member of the couple who moved on and got a new house and new furniture, and LHS is still bitter about it.”