Georgia High School Football Rivalry Extends Thousands of Miles to Iraq
October 24, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - "My team is the best," Sgt. 1st Class Tony Copeland, noncommissioned officer in charge of 1st Brigade Combat Team's personnel office and Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Manning, 1st BCT Iraqi Security Forces Cell noncommissioned officer, stated in unison.
Sharing the same hometown of Valdosta, Ga., these high school football rivals developed an unorthodox friendship. They discovered they were football adversaries when discussing their previous assignments - Copeland, as a drill sergeant, and Manning as a recruiter, during which their hometowns came up.
Copeland graduated from Lowndes High School and Manning from Valdosta High School. Each firmly claim their respective high school as the highest esteemed.
Down there, it's all about football, they stated. Both are very proud of their hometown, they are all-around Georgia fans with only their high schools as a difference.
"There's a lot of history between these schools," said Manning. The rivalry is an old one, added Copeland.
"That's why I still watch," said Manning. "It's the competition. Copeland will confirm, the Wildcats (Valdosta) have six national titles and 23 state championships, we are just better!
"Ask him how many national titles the Vikings (Lowndes) won," he teased.
Shaking his head, Copeland confirmed the statistics and declared that Manning, "keeps living in the past, but his school isn't doing anything now. Five years in a row, we have beaten them!"
The Vikings beat the Wildcats in their most recent game Oct. 19.
"We beat them 18-8 this past game," Copeland announced.
Regardless of the hometown rivalry, these senior NCOs are admittedly each other's battle buddy.
"We talk about everything, especially home. He's my confidant." Manning said, reminiscing on the times they have shared.
Copeland arrived at Camp Taji, Iraq in April and the two Georgia natives have spent a lot of time together since.
"Being at war, it's nice to meet someone that you have something in common with. I'm so glad I have him as my battle buddy." said Manning with a smile.
They eat lunch together and visit each other at work every day. The bond they have allows them to maintain a healthy friendship, Manning said, despite maintaining that bitter high school football rivalry.