Rivalry remembered as Aquinas readies for season opener

(Featured photo: Aquinas Quarterback Jim Franklin runs for  a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the Aug. 11 scrimmage. Christopher Rickerson/Augusta Good News)

Major changes are on their way to Aquinas, but at Friday night’s scrimmage the Fightin’ Irish relived some of their past as they defeated the Academy of Richmond County 34-10.

The Aquinas and ARC rivalry is one of the oldest in the area, dating back to the 1940s when Richmond Academy and Boys Catholic High School football teams would play football games on Thanksgiving Day with a capacity crowd. Boys Catholic High merged with the all-girls school Mount St. Joseph to form Aquinas in 1957.

Doug Herman, a 1959 Aquinas High School graduate who played football, remembers the rivalry games and how big they were for the city.

“We called it Turkey Day games,” Herman said. “It was an intense rivalry; ’56 was a huge game.”

Herman said Boys Catholic High School wasn’t known for winning games. The team didn’t get its first win against the Musketeers until 1954, a good 10 years after the teams started playing.

The 1958 Aquinas High School football team. Photo courtesy Doug Herman

Herman’s family members were big fans of Boy’s Catholic High even before he played. He says he remembered the Thanksgiving Day games against ARC being packed with around 6,000 people. In some households, the game took precedence over the meal.

“Most families had to delay their dinner, and my father would be real upset when they (Boy’s Catholic) lost,” said Herman.

In 1956, Boy’s Catholic High held ARC scoreless in a game that ended in a 0-0 tie. This tie was considered an “upset” for Boy’s Catholic High, which was not supposed to have a chance against ARC. The Musketeers would go on to win the state championship that year.

“That was a spectacular year,” Herman said. “It was huge. Richmond was supposed to stomp the Irish, and we were able to play them to a tie.”

Aquinas went on to defeat Richmond Academy 9-6 in the very next season in 1957.

Coach Denny Leonard led the team through those years. He was the coach of Boy’s Catholic High starting in 1946 and later at Aquinas. He retired in 1967 and died in 1999 at the age of 86.

His grandson, James Leonard, is the current coach at Aquinas and led the Fightin’ Irish to a win the State Championship in his first season in 2013.

Even though Friday’s game was just a scrimmage and not to the same magnitude as it previously was, Leonard still gave his thoughts on the historic rivalry.

“It’s nice to have history, Richmond and Aquinas both have great communities, fans get along great, and it is a fun rivalry, but at the end of day it was just a scrimmage, and we have to fix the little things,” Leonard said.

The 1977 football season was the first season in Aquinas’ current stadium and the team will play its last game in the original stadium on Friday, August 18.

“It is going to be a special one,” Leonard said. “If you are born and bred Aquinas like me, that old stadium does have a special place in your heart. It is going to be fun, expecting a huge crowd, but at the end of the day we got to get back to work on Sunday and fix all the little things.”

With the major updates beginning at Aquinas, games after Aug. 18 will be played at Greenbrier High School.

Christopher Rickerson, an Augusta University graduate, has covered area sports for Augusta University, The Augusta Press and Augusta Good News. Subscribe to the Augusta Good News newsletter here.

Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local women and men who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!