As cornerback for the junior varsity South Lakes Seahawks football team, sophomore Cody Larson knows there’s one game every year that matters most.
“If there’s one game that you want to win more than any other, it’s the Herndon game,” he said, as he watched the two rival varsity football teams battle it out Monday night on South Lakes High School’s field.
Larson’s seriousness about the Herndon/South Lakes rivalry is nothing new. Since South Lakes opened its doors in 1978, the two nearby schools have eyed each other from across the border, rivaling the other in both athletics and academics. And after almost a quarter century, the rivalry remains as strong as ever.
“A lot of the kids at these two schools grew up together,” said Sgt. Sean Keating, a South Lakes junior reserve officer corps instructor who graduated from Herndon in 1979. “It’s better than a cross-town rivalry. It’s Reston and Herndon, man. It’s about the bragging rights.”
Keating remembers the first football game in which the two schools clashed. It was 1978, he said, the South Lakes stadium was packed to capacity on both sides and the roar of the crowd was relentless. Things got so intense at that game, he recalled, there were two fights between students at the two schools in the parking lot.
“There were a couple of scuffles,” he said with a chuckle.
WHEN HERNDON’S head football coach Tommy Meier was hired 15 years ago, his then boss, Principal Bill Caudill, told him that his one task each year was to defeat the Seahawks.
“Even today, I live in fear of losing to South Lakes every year,” Meier said.
For his players each year, Meier said, the Baron Cameron Bowl — the annual contest between the two schools’ football teams — is by far the most emotional and important match of the season.
“It’s always the biggest game of the year,” he said.
Since Meier started coaching the Hornets, South Lakes has only beat Herndon twice, once in 1991 and again in 2002. On Monday, Herndon clobbered South Lakes 34 to 0.
The rivalry has become a tradition, faithfully handed down from one class to the next at both schools.
“It’s part of the culture that once you attend the school, especially if you’re on a sports team, the rivalry is just understood,” said Andrew Sterling, who graduated from Herndon in 1997 and is now director of communications and marketing for the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce.
THE RIVALRY started during the school boundary redistricting process in the mid-1970s, in which it was decided that North Reston students would continue to attend Herndon and South Reston students would attend the new South Lakes High, said Sarah Larson, a Reston historian and Herndon High School graduate.
"One of the real points of conflict is that South Lakes was intended to be the high school for all of Reston and then the community was split in districting," she said. "So North Reston goes to Herndon High School while everybody else goes to South Lakes. Definitely hard feelings there."
During the early days, students at South Lakes saw their peers attending school in then-rural Herndon as backwards, while Herndon students saw South Lakes students as stuck-up.
“We had Herndon Hick Day and they had South Lakes Snob Day,” said Robin Smyers, who graduated from South Lakes in 1982 and now represents Lake Anne residents on Reston Association’s Board of Directors.
Smyers said she, along with many of her friends from South Lakes’ early days, fondly remember the rivalry between the two schools.
“None of the football games were ever as big as the Herndon/South Lakes game,” she said. “It was a pride thing.”