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Last Shawnee vs. Central game tonight

The Wizard Contest is a decades-long tradition in Springfield, but few things measure up to the longevity of the Shawnee-Catholic Central football rivalry.

The Braves and Irish have been playing since the 1960s. One Central grad said the rivalry goes back as far as the 1950s.

Except for a short stretch when Central played Northwestern in Week 1, the Shawnee-Central game has always taken place in the season opener. This is Catholic Central coach Steve DeWitt’s 37th season, and he said he has coached against Shawnee every season. His first game in 1977 was against Shawnee.

The tradition ends tonight when the Braves and Irish meet on the first Friday night of the 2013 season. Catholic Central informed Shawnee on Monday it would drop Shawnee from the schedule in 2014.

“That’s kind of a regret,” DeWitt said, “but almost a necessity.”

The decision surprised Shawnee coach Rick Meeks, but he said, “I wanted to get out of the contract a few years back. I didn’t want to play them. It’s a no-win situation for us. If you win, you’re supposed to. If you lose, everyone’s shocked that they beat us.”

Neither school has found a replacement. Shawnee already has one new local team on its schedule in 2014. It will start a home-and-away series with Springfield next fall.

The rise of Shawnee’s program, which played in the state championship game two years ago, and the falling numbers at Catholic Central fed into the decision. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision for Central. Irish AD Dan Shay told News-Sun contributor Kim Byrum-Skinner, “it’s a huge loss for both schools in gate receipts.”

The Irish begin the season with only 17 players on the roster. It’s the smallest team DeWitt has ever fielded. Shawnee, by comparison, has 55.

“If I spent all my time worrying about it, we wouldn’t get anything accomplished,” DeWitt said. “The kids, with the energy they bring to practice every day, just allow us to move on and get a lot done during practice.”

The picks

Shawnee at Catholic Central: After losing four straight in the series (2005-08), the Braves have won three of the last four games. This is the first chance for the Irish to put their 2-8 performance in 2012 behind them. Pick: Shawnee 28, Catholic Central 13.

Kenton Ridge at Northeastern: The Cougars have beaten the Jets three seasons in a row and in eight of the past nine season openers. Kenton Ridge finished 6-4 in 2012, but three of their losses were to playoff teams. Pick: Kenton Ridge 33, Northeastern 27.

Other picks: Trotwood 42, Springfield 18; Tippecanoe 45, Graham 13; Tecumseh 35, Fairborn 21; Urbana 41, London 21; West Liberty-Salem 28, Greenon 10; Northwestern 28, Southeastern 24; West Jefferson 31, Mechanicsburg 22; Dayton Christian 45, Greeneview 18; Triad 40, Indian Lake 28; Madison Plains 31, Cedarville 10; Ohio State 52, Buffalo 10.

Contest note: The Wizard voting form appears in Sunday’s News-Sun. This year, you can also email your picks to Emails must be received before 7 p.m. Friday.

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