What makes Calvin and Hope The Rivalry

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Picture from the upper concourse showing the Feb. 2, 2019, Calvin-Hope game at Hope's DeVos Fieldhouse. (Hope athletics photo)
A full house saw Calvin defeat Hope 82-80 on Saturday at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. And that full house is just part of what makes the Calvin-Hope rivalry the best in Division III.
Hope athletics photo

By Pat Coleman

HOLLAND, Michigan – This is what makes the greatest rivalry in Division III basketball what it is. It’s one thing when Calvin and Hope meet with first place in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association on the line, or with the MIAA tournament title going to the winner.

What the great rivalries have is what Saturday’s game here at the DeVos Fieldhouse had, a packed house, even when what’s on the line is more like fourth place in the conference, and a chance to get to .500.

When that’s the stakes, and you still sell out the arena that leads Division III basketball in attendance each and every year, that’s a rivalry, and it’s one of many reasons why Calvin and Hope stand above all others in Division III basketball.

Few who played today were alive when these teams met at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids in 1997, where 11,442 fans filled the building and put The Rivalry on the map for the rest of Division III. And while the current generation of Calvin College and Hope College players might not be competing for the MIAA championship in 2019, they competed fiercely, and physically, with each other in a game which Calvin won, 82-80.

And in typical fashion for this rivalry, it was played in front of a crowd of 3,575.

These schools are just 30 miles apart in western Michigan, and as Calvin great Mickey Phelps recalls, you knew from childhood whether you were destined to go to one school or the other. “If you were Christian Reformed, you went to Calvin. If you were Reformed, you went to Hope.”

When Phelps was at Calvin, from 1966-1970, he said it was very rare for someone from one side to cross over and attend the other school, helping cement the rivalry which has long been described as holy war.

With Saturday’s result, Hope has won 103 and Calvin 97 of these first 200 meetings. After 200 games, just a total of 100 points separates the teams in head-to-head competition, with Hope having scored 13,664 points and Calvin 13,564.

The Rivalry, like many great rivalries, has a game which was unofficial. Before the series started, in 1920, Hope had a basketball team. Calvin students put together a team to try to challenge Hope and was warned by the college administration that if it attempted to represent Calvin College against Hope in basketball, the participants would face disciplinary action. Students played anyway, not in Calvin uniforms. (And the game did not go well for the Calvin 5.)

The Calvin-Hope matchup also comes with its off-the-court issues, wherein the rivalry got so heated in its early days that it was suspended from 1924-25 until 1928-29 because of unruly fan behavior.

It also has a down stretch. Calvin swept the entire decade of the 1970s, winning all 21 matchups. But Hope won the 1980s, split the 1990s and won the first decade of this century. It leads the 2010s as well.

With the fervent fan interest comes demand. “Obviously Hope and Calvin, you can't get in, unless you had a ticket two weeks ahead of time,” Phelps recalled.

And even if you had a ticket, that didn’t guarantee you any priority seating, especially when Hope played in the Holland Civic Center, which it did from 1954 to 2005. “They would wait outside before the JV game and rush the doors, if you want to get a good seat,” recalled Joel Holstege, who played in the game for Hope and was a 1998 D3hoops.com All-America selection. “You'd sit there in the blowing snow. That was fun, showing up there and you'd see all the people waiting.”

Even though neither team right now is playing up to its expectations, there’s no intensity lost. The stands still fill, even with extra seating around the top level of the DeVos Fieldhouse.

“It’s really one I mark on the calendar and look forward to,” Calvin senior Austin Bykerk said after the game. “Coming up to it, it’s a lot more intense and you know there’s going to be people there, but you still just have to be in the mind-set that it’s still a game, just come together as a team and have a dogfight.”

Bykerk scored a team-high 18 points and led Calvin with five assists in Saturday’s win.

The perspective is not lost on someone who is new to the rivalry either, as each program has people who can pass down the stories of the history of the game

“More than anything it’s just exciting,” said Hope sophomore Preston Granger, who scored 23 points and had 14 rebounds. “We want to make sure to respect the tradition and the people who came before and all the great games which have come out of this rivalry. Like Coach Dav (assistant coach Tom Davelaar) said, he’s seen a hundred, literally a hundred of these. This was classic Hope-Calvin.”

Davelaar, a 1971 Hope grad who played for the Flying Dutchmen and has been on the coaching staff for 37 years, has seen 98 of the 200.

The Rivalry also brings with it an extra level of scrutiny. If the game comes down to one possession, as it did on Saturday afternoon, it can lead to all sorts of soul-searching and second-guessing.

“The stage, the league race, obviously the rivalry – you bet it gets magnified,” said Hope coach Greg Mitchell. “We try our hardest to keep the game as simple as we can – in other words, we know the rivalry is going to be exciting, but it’s still about hitting shots, defending and rebounding. I thought we did a good job in being consistent for about 36 minutes, 35 minutes. But that five-minute flurry between each half was the difference.”

Until someone else can match that intensity, that level of attention, and come close to matching the 11,000 people in the stands, The Rivalry between Hope and Calvin stands alone.

“Part of The Rivalry, is you know them, they know you,” Calvin coach Kevin Vande Streek said after the game. “Our guys play against them in the summers. They really know each other well. You know you’re going to have 3,500 people. I think it would be the same heated contest if we were both 0-20.”

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