Hinsdale Central football players hoist the Old Oaken Bucket after defeating Downers Grove North in the 2004 version of the rivalry game.
Hinsdale Central football players hoist the Old Oaken Bucket after defeating Downers Grove North in the 2004 version of the rivalry game. — Photo provided by Hinsdale Central Football Club

Tom Dorrance and David Edwards are generations apart in age, and on two sides of one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the state, but even they can find some common ground.

Dorrance, a football coach at Hinsdale Central with 28 years under his belt, and Edwards, a senior at Downers Grove North who started at quarterback for the Trojans the past three seasons, agree that there is something unique about the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game between the two schools.

Maybe it's the history of playing for an actual oaken bucket constructed in the 1930s; 1935 to be precise. Maybe it's the fact the two schools survive in the same West Suburban Conference of which they were charter members. Or maybe it's that both schools are separated by about five miles and are among the top public high schools in the state (according to U.S. News and World Report). Whatever it is, both sides of the rivalry agree there is something special about that bucket.

"As kids, we'd always be running around on the north side of the stadium during games," Edwards said. "They had a golf cart with the Bucket sitting there, and my dad took me over to it. At the time, I really didn't know about it, but he said, 'This is what you'll be playing for some day.'"

Dorrance has been around the rivalry long enough to see the ebbs and flows, from North's extended winning streak in the rivalry in the late 80s and early 90s to Central's recent dominance. The players change from year to year, as does the nature of the sport and the meaning of a single game on a nine-game schedule. 

Teams improve, programs decline and new rivalries form, but the Old Oaken Bucket has been, and will continue to be, a totem of what makes high school football unique. It's a physical piece of history that spans decades and generations, and it's a small piece of history that Downers Grove and Hinsdale share.

"The Old Oaken Bucket is one of the coolest rivalries in the state, just for as long as it's been going," Dorrance said. "You pick it up and look at it, and there are names scratched inside from 1939, and you can't help but think, 'This is such a cool thing to see.'"

THE PAST

The bucket itself, constructed in a shop class at Central (when it was known as Hinsdale Township High School), was around long before Ken Schreiner was introduced to the rivalry. It didn't take him long to deduce the significance of the battle between the two schools.

Schreiner spent 31 years at Hinsdale Central, all of them "outstanding," and was the Red Devils' head coach from 1992 to 2002. Before arriving at Central, he coached at Oak Lawn, Wheaton High School, Wheaton Warrenville High School (before it added the 'South') and Maine West. In short, he has been a part of plenty of rivalries, none of which compare to the one Hinsdale and Downers Grove have shared since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term as President of the United States.

"It's a pretty intense rivalry," said Schreiner, who guided the Red Devils to six wins in the series during his stint as head coach. "The kids were all very competitive and all very anxious to succeed, and they took a lot of pride in the game. I really feel that over time, beginning in the mid-80s all the way through my time, it remained an important game."

There are bitter rivalries out there (Michigan-Ohio State in college football, Giants-Dodgers in baseball), but the Old Oaken Bucket clash is one rooted in mutual respect.

"Dick Carstens upped the ante on it. It was a bitter rivalry for him," former DGN head coach Pete Ventrelli said of the man he replaced as head coach. "Over time it became friendly in nature. We wanted to make it that way – highly competitive but friendly."

Carstens coached at North for 31 seasons from 1955 to 1985, but didn't pick up his first win in the series until 1970, a drought that perhaps added to the intensity of the rivalry from North's side of things. Ventrelli, currently a U.S. history and world history teacher at St. Francis in Wheaton, went 10-6 during his tenure, including seven consecutive wins from 1987 to 1993.

Ventrelli said the bucket is so coveted that covert tactics come into play to get a hand on it. According to Ventrelli, during the Trojans' long wining streak in the series, a group of Central students snuck into North one day following the game one year, found the bucket and absconded with it back to Central before eventually returning it safely to North's custody.

"During a basketball game later that year, a door opened near the court and the bucket comes rolling out with a note that said, 'We just wanted to see what the bucket was like,'" Ventrelli said. "It was from the seniors [at Central], because they had never had it"

SPILLING BEYOND THE BORDERS

The rivalry isn't just confined to the village limits of Hinsdale and Downers Grove anymore. Towns near both schools are stocked with people who have ties to the game as a players, as coaches, or both.

At Downers Grove North, current assistant coach Chad Isaacson was a standout for the Trojans as a player, and 1991 was a good year for him on and off the field. He was named homecoming king and helped lead North to a 6-0 overtime win against Central, the Trojans' fifth of seven straight wins in the series.

When the rivalry started, Hinsdale Township High School and Downers Grove High School were the only schools in town. Hinsdale Township High School District 86 eventually added a second school, and Hinsdale South also has strong ties to the Downers Grove North side of the rivalry. 

Dave Isaacson, Chad Isaacson's brother, Jarrod Amolsch and Scott Hansen are all Hinsdale South assistants that played for Downers Grove North. Their head coach, Mike Barry, graduated from North in 1992, and played for Pete Ventrelli and current DGN coach John Wander. 

Chad Hetlet, currently the head coach at Glenbard West, was a defensive assistant on Mike DiMatteo's staff at Central before heading to West. DiMatteo compiled a 35-20 record in five seasons at Central from 2006 to 2010 and won the bucket four times before becoming the head man at Buffalo Grove.

Barry relayed a story from one of the Old Oaken Bucket games in which he played that shows just how much the trophy and the rivalry means.

"One year, we played on a Saturday at Hinsdale Central and ended up winning the bucket, and at that time Mrs. Carstens was in the stands," Barry said. "Coach Carstens had passed, so we as a team walked over and presented the bucket to her, and you could see the tears in her eyes. I still remember that. They have that little hill there [by the visitors' stands], and we walked up it to give her the bucket. It was a really cool experience."

THE PRESENT

The history of the clash between Central and North isn't lost on the current generation of players. They know what's at stake each season and they know what it means to the school and to the community to bring home a win in the game. In time, they will talk about the close calls and the triumphs they experienced in the game while a new crop of players puts it all on the line for the coveted trophy.

David Edwards already has a story like that.

"My sophomore year was one of the hardest games," Edwards said. "We lost 21-20 and had an opportunity to win it on a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter, but we got stopped."

Andrew Pyle and a swarm of Red Devils stuffed the 2-point attempt after Brandon Salter returned a punt 89 yards for a North score with 42.5 seconds left in the game during Edwards' sophomore year in 2012.

The Red Devils won this year's clash 34-18 for their eighth straight win in the series. It was the largest margin of victory for either side of the rivalry since Central won 41-13 in 2009, and it was a meaningful result for Central's current seniors. 

"It was a good feeling. We didn't want to be the group to let down, we wanted to keep the tradition going, and to be seniors winning it, it means something special to us," Central senior Jimmy Thompson said. "It's fun after the game being able to hold the bucket and be with all the seniors on the field. It's a nice memory and something we can think about even after the season is over."

Current North head coach John Wander has a unique perspective on the history of the clash and the way it has morphed into a friendly affair. He played under Carstens, was an assistant under Ventrelli and was neighbors with former Hinsdale Central assistant coach Bill Huskisson. 

"Under Ventrelli, I called the offense and [Bill] called the defense, so we went head-to-head with each other," Wander said. "As a adults, it was great to have that rivalry."

THE FUTURE

Even a rivalry so steeped in tradition and history, a clash that has survived through 13 Presidential administrations, a World War, the rise, spread and fall of Communism and other life-defining events virtually unaltered, is changing.

The Old Oaken Bucket isn't going away, it has too much history behind it for it to completely disappear, but the nature of the game and the way high school football coaches prepare their teams could fundamentally change the way the rivalry is perceived. Coaches, in an effort to keep their players on an even keel, tend to stress a methodical, one-week-at-a-time approach rather than focusing on any particular opponent.

Dan Hartman, who experienced his first Old Oaken Bucket rivalry for the first time on Oct. 24, is Central's fourth head coach since 2005. A factor to building a good rivalry is the continuity of those involved – George Halas and Vince Lombardi in the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers rivalry, for instance. His introduction to the rivalry was a good one (the Red Devils won 34-18), and he compared to other big games on Central's schedule.

"We have a lot of rivalry-type games, and I thought it was very similar to those," Hartman said. "Everyone was a little more amped up for it like any rivalry game."

Time passes. Perceptions and traditions change. Nothing is permanent. Yankee Stadium was demolished to make way for a new, more luxurious, modern Yankee Stadium. The bleachers at Wrigley Field were recently torn down as part of an extensive renovation project, and a glass colossus was added to the historic columns of Soldier Field a few years ago.

High school football rivalries, even between schools as old as Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North, change. North has a big game against Downers Grove South every year, and Central also has a fierce rivalry with Lyons Township.

Yet there is something special about that bucket. It has endured as a symbol of what it means for players from two teams in two similar neighboring communities to put it all on the line against a long-time rival.

"Everything changes," Schreiner said. "I can't speak to how the coaches feel about Downers Grove North now, but the winner of that game being able to have that trophy, it was special. It was certainly a game I looked forward to the whole time I was there."

No matter which program is having more success, no matter what new rivalries might develop, Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central will remain friendly foes, both equally coveting a piece of history that takes a tangible shape in the form of an Old Oaken Bucket.

"The rivalry is still there," Wander said. "It's tradition. You want that bucket."

Tom Dorrance and David Edwards are generations apart in age, and on two sides of one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the state, but even they can find some common ground.

Dorrance, a football coach at Hinsdale Central with 28 years under his belt, and Edwards, a senior at Downers Grove North who started at quarterback for the Trojans the past three seasons, agree that there is something unique about the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game between the two schools.

Maybe it's the history of playing for an actual oaken bucket constructed in the 1930s; 1935 to be precise. Maybe it's the fact the two schools survive in the same West Suburban Conference of which they were charter members. Or maybe it's that both schools are separated by about five miles and are among the top public high schools in the state (according to U.S. News and World Report). Whatever it is, both sides of the rivalry agree there is something special about that bucket.

"As kids, we'd always be running around on the north side of the stadium during games," Edwards said. "They had a golf cart with the Bucket sitting there, and my dad took me over to it. At the time, I really didn't know about it, but he said, 'This is what you'll be playing for some day.'"

Dorrance has been around the rivalry long enough to see the ebbs and flows, from North's extended winning streak in the rivalry in the late 80s and early 90s to Central's recent dominance. The players change from year to year, as does the nature of the sport and the meaning of a single game on a nine-game schedule. 

Teams improve, programs decline and new rivalries form, but the Old Oaken Bucket has been, and will continue to be, a totem of what makes high school football unique. It's a physical piece of history that spans decades and generations, and it's a small piece of history that Downers Grove and Hinsdale share.

"The Old Oaken Bucket is one of the coolest rivalries in the state, just for as long as it's been going," Dorrance said. "You pick it up and look at it, and there are names scratched inside from 1939, and you can't help but think, 'This is such a cool thing to see.'"

THE PAST

The bucket itself, constructed in a shop class at Central (when it was known as Hinsdale Township High School), was around long before Ken Schreiner was introduced to the rivalry. It didn't take him long to deduce the significance of the battle between the two schools.

Schreiner spent 31 years at Hinsdale Central, all of them "outstanding," and was the Red Devils' head coach from 1992 to 2002. Before arriving at Central, he coached at Oak Lawn, Wheaton High School, Wheaton Warrenville High School (before it added the 'South') and Maine West. In short, he has been a part of plenty of rivalries, none of which compare to the one Hinsdale and Downers Grove have shared since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term as President of the United States.

"It's a pretty intense rivalry," said Schreiner, who guided the Red Devils to six wins in the series during his stint as head coach. "The kids were all very competitive and all very anxious to succeed, and they took a lot of pride in the game. I really feel that over time, beginning in the mid-80s all the way through my time, it remained an important game."

There are bitter rivalries out there (Michigan-Ohio State in college football, Giants-Dodgers in baseball), but the Old Oaken Bucket clash is one rooted in mutual respect.

"Dick Carstens upped the ante on it. It was a bitter rivalry for him," former DGN head coach Pete Ventrelli said of the man he replaced as head coach. "Over time it became friendly in nature. We wanted to make it that way – highly competitive but friendly."

Carstens coached at North for 31 seasons from 1955 to 1985, but didn't pick up his first win in the series until 1970, a drought that perhaps added to the intensity of the rivalry from North's side of things. Ventrelli, currently a U.S. history and world history teacher at St. Francis in Wheaton, went 10-6 during his tenure, including seven consecutive wins from 1987 to 1993.

Ventrelli said the bucket is so coveted that covert tactics come into play to get a hand on it. According to Ventrelli, during the Trojans' long wining streak in the series, a group of Central students snuck into North one day following the game one year, found the bucket and absconded with it back to Central before eventually returning it safely to North's custody.

"During a basketball game later that year, a door opened near the court and the bucket comes rolling out with a note that said, 'We just wanted to see what the bucket was like,'" Ventrelli said. "It was from the seniors [at Central], because they had never had it"

SPILLING BEYOND THE BORDERS

The rivalry isn't just confined to the village limits of Hinsdale and Downers Grove anymore. Towns near both schools are stocked with people who have ties to the game as a players, as coaches, or both.

At Downers Grove North, current assistant coach Chad Isaacson was a standout for the Trojans as a player, and 1991 was a good year for him on and off the field. He was named homecoming king and helped lead North to a 6-0 overtime win against Central, the Trojans' fifth of seven straight wins in the series.

When the rivalry started, Hinsdale Township High School and Downers Grove High School were the only schools in town. Hinsdale Township High School District 86 eventually added a second school, and Hinsdale South also has strong ties to the Downers Grove North side of the rivalry. 

Dave Isaacson, Chad Isaacson's brother, Jarrod Amolsch and Scott Hansen are all Hinsdale South assistants that played for Downers Grove North. Their head coach, Mike Barry, graduated from North in 1992, and played for Pete Ventrelli and current DGN coach John Wander. 

Chad Hetlet, currently the head coach at Glenbard West, was a defensive assistant on Mike DiMatteo's staff at Central before heading to West. DiMatteo compiled a 35-20 record in five seasons at Central from 2006 to 2010 and won the bucket four times before becoming the head man at Buffalo Grove.

Barry relayed a story from one of the Old Oaken Bucket games in which he played that shows just how much the trophy and the rivalry means.

"One year, we played on a Saturday at Hinsdale Central and ended up winning the bucket, and at that time Mrs. Carstens was in the stands," Barry said. "Coach Carstens had passed, so we as a team walked over and presented the bucket to her, and you could see the tears in her eyes. I still remember that. They have that little hill there [by the visitors' stands], and we walked up it to give her the bucket. It was a really cool experience."

THE PRESENT

The history of the clash between Central and North isn't lost on the current generation of players. They know what's at stake each season and they know what it means to the school and to the community to bring home a win in the game. In time, they will talk about the close calls and the triumphs they experienced in the game while a new crop of players puts it all on the line for the coveted trophy.

David Edwards already has a story like that.

"My sophomore year was one of the hardest games," Edwards said. "We lost 21-20 and had an opportunity to win it on a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter, but we got stopped."

Andrew Pyle and a swarm of Red Devils stuffed the 2-point attempt after Brandon Salter returned a punt 89 yards for a North score with 42.5 seconds left in the game during Edwards' sophomore year in 2012.

The Red Devils won this year's clash 34-18 for their eighth straight win in the series. It was the largest margin of victory for either side of the rivalry since Central won 41-13 in 2009, and it was a meaningful result for Central's current seniors. 

"It was a good feeling. We didn't want to be the group to let down, we wanted to keep the tradition going, and to be seniors winning it, it means something special to us," Central senior Jimmy Thompson said. "It's fun after the game being able to hold the bucket and be with all the seniors on the field. It's a nice memory and something we can think about even after the season is over."

Current North head coach John Wander has a unique perspective on the history of the clash and the way it has morphed into a friendly affair. He played under Carstens, was an assistant under Ventrelli and was neighbors with former Hinsdale Central assistant coach Bill Huskisson. 

"Under Ventrelli, I called the offense and [Bill] called the defense, so we went head-to-head with each other," Wander said. "As a adults, it was great to have that rivalry."

THE FUTURE

Even a rivalry so steeped in tradition and history, a clash that has survived through 13 Presidential administrations, a World War, the rise, spread and fall of Communism and other life-defining events virtually unaltered, is changing.

The Old Oaken Bucket isn't going away, it has too much history behind it for it to completely disappear, but the nature of the game and the way high school football coaches prepare their teams could fundamentally change the way the rivalry is perceived. Coaches, in an effort to keep their players on an even keel, tend to stress a methodical, one-week-at-a-time approach rather than focusing on any particular opponent.

Dan Hartman, who experienced his first Old Oaken Bucket rivalry for the first time on Oct. 24, is Central's fourth head coach since 2005. A factor to building a good rivalry is the continuity of those involved – George Halas and Vince Lombardi in the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers rivalry, for instance. His introduction to the rivalry was a good one (the Red Devils won 34-18), and he compared to other big games on Central's schedule.

"We have a lot of rivalry-type games, and I thought it was very similar to those," Hartman said. "Everyone was a little more amped up for it like any rivalry game."

Time passes. Perceptions and traditions change. Nothing is permanent. Yankee Stadium was demolished to make way for a new, more luxurious, modern Yankee Stadium. The bleachers at Wrigley Field were recently torn down as part of an extensive renovation project, and a glass colossus was added to the historic columns of Soldier Field a few years ago.

High school football rivalries, even between schools as old as Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North, change. North has a big game against Downers Grove South every year, and Central also has a fierce rivalry with Lyons Township.

Yet there is something special about that bucket. It has endured as a symbol of what it means for players from two teams in two similar neighboring communities to put it all on the line against a long-time rival.

"Everything changes," Schreiner said. "I can't speak to how the coaches feel about Downers Grove North now, but the winner of that game being able to have that trophy, it was special. It was certainly a game I looked forward to the whole time I was there."

No matter which program is having more success, no matter what new rivalries might develop, Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central will remain friendly foes, both equally coveting a piece of history that takes a tangible shape in the form of an Old Oaken Bucket.

"The rivalry is still there," Wander said. "It's tradition. You want that bucket."