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Hamburg, Frontier rewew rivalry in quest for long-lost Challenge Trophy

Frontier and Hamburg schools have been intense rivals on the courts and on the fields for decades. But the unexpected return of the long-missing international Challenge Trophy from Germany has reinvigorated the rivalry.

The cross-town rivals used to thrive on a rich tradition of exchanging a silver trophy given by the city of Hamburg, Germany, to mark the Town of Hamburg's sesquicentennial; the trophy was traded back and forth between the districts based on their sports performances at the end of each school year at annual athletic awards banquets.

But all that came to a halt in the ?late 1980s, when Frontier was classified in a AA league division as the district grew, while Hamburg remained in the A division - and they didn't play against each other in all sports. Both districts agreed to end the trophy exchange.

But interest in it didn't disappear. About five years ago, Hamburg town historian Jim Baker, a retired Frontier history teacher and coach who remembered the trophy well, began asking about the whereabouts of the 55-year-old relic. It couldn't be found in Frontier's basement, and it had more or less been forgotten when Hamburg's athletic director, Greg Witman, stumbled upon it recently in the basement of Hamburg High School, tucked in a box with other trophies from past years.

"It was in rough shape, was black and beat-up looking," Witman said. "It just looked like a piece of junk."

Baker was ecstatic when he got a call from Rich Gray, Frontier's athletic director, who told him the trophy had been found.

"It's terrific news," Baker said. "I remember it when it was presented the last time in the late '80s. It's something that the kids from both Frontier and Hamburg can hang their hats on."

Little did Witman know where it would lead; after 24 years of absence, the trophy is making a comeback between Frontier and Hamburg. Still tucked inside the trophy was a piece of parchment on which the yearly winner was to be listed.

Once Witman got in touch with Gray, the two were on a mission, and they talked with local experts about cleaning the trophy up. Witman and Gray also began talking about how to jump-start the rivalry and the accompanying trophy exchange.

One thing led to another, and within the last month, Gray and his secretary spent a few hours cleaning the trophy with silver polish and uncovering its beauty.

"It's like the Stanley Cup. You can't touch it. You need white gloves," a proud Gray said in his office. "We're really excited about it."

"I wanted to see this get some kind of rivalry started again," said Witman, a Hamburg graduate. "We're trying to promote a friendly rivalry. I think it's a neat trophy, and I'm glad it shined up the way it did."

Earlier this month, Gray showed it off to the Frontier School Board at the beginning of the school year and announced that both districts ?had decided the friendly competition would start again.

The competition will be structured by a point system for varsity team victories throughout the school year between both districts. Each varsity win earns a district two points, but a bonus point will be added if the team has scholar-athlete status. The districts are aiming to play each other more in non-league games so they can renew the competition and restart the tradition.

"Our kids like playing one another. There's a lot of bragging rights, and it's a nice rivalry, but it doesn't get nasty," Gray said.

Witman, who is keeping the trophy at Hamburg for this school year, since it was found in a Hamburg basement and Hamburg won it the last time it was used, quipped: "We're friends and neighbors 364 days out of the year, but that one day when we play them in sports, it changes that day."

"It's still a bit beat up," Witman said of the trophy, "but neither Hamburg nor Frontier is perfect, so it's perfect for us."