McCAMEY People on both sides of the rivalry between Iraan and McCamey describe it as much more feisty than friendly.
The two West Texas towns, which are roughly the same size and separated by about 30 miles, just don’t like each other and never have. McCamey High School senior Josh Molina said Tuesday that the people in those communities generally don’t even associate with each other, unless they meet for a football game or some other athletic competition.
Their fight on the football field figures to be especially intense this year, and not just because they couldn’t settle their differences last season. Iraan and McCamey split a pair of District 5-1A Division II games, with each winning at home, and they’re scheduled to meet twice again this fall.
The new head coach at McCamey is John Fellows, who’s only one year removed from being the head coach at Iraan. Fellows led the Braves from 2007-11, spent last year as the defensive coordinator at Reagan County and was hired July 5 at McCamey.
“It surprised me,” said Iraan wide receiver and cornerback Weston Maxcey, who played for Fellows two years ago as a sophomore. “Coach Fellows was a good coach for Iraan, and I still love him as a coach today.
“I just want to throw the word out that we’re coming for the McCamey Badgers. We’re going to give it to him.”
Molina, who played against the Fellows-led Braves two years ago, expressed a similar sentiment. He said he was initially “shocked” to learn that Fellows would be leading the Badgers, but has already come to like his new coach, and said he and his teammates want to beat the Braves just as badly as they ever have.
As for Fellows and his successor at Iraan, Mark Kirchhoff, they were hesitant to stoke the fire. Kirchhoff said he’s quickly learned the importance of the rivalry to the Iraan community, but he doesn’t know Fellows personally and won’t feel any extra emotions when the teams meet Oct. 11 in McCamey and Nov. 8 in Iraan.
“Regardless if I’m here or they’re there, McCamey and Iraan want to beat each other,” Fellows said. “And it’s not about me. It’s about winning a district football game.”
Fellows, who was an assistant coach at Iraan for two years before becoming the head coach, spent two seasons at McCamey beforehand. He was hired in 2000 by then-head coach Jay McWilliams, the school’s principal and the older brother of most recent McCamey head coach Chris McWilliams.
Fellows is a Marfa native who began his career as an assistant coach at Van Horn, another member of District 5-1A Division II, and said those in his profession generally don’t caught up in rivalries like students and fans. He said coaches prepare for every opponent in the same fashion and don’t usually hold grudges with their peers, at least not because of the colors they wear or the school at which they’re employed.
McCamey assistant coach Israel DeLeon, entering his sixth season with the Badgers, and Iraan assistant coach Robert Hernandez echoed that sentiment. Hernandez was hired by Fellows and served as his offensive coordinator for two seasons, and they haven’t severed their ties.
“Coach Fellows is still a great friend,” Hernandez said. “If we get the chance, we’ll go play golf or whatever. It’s a brotherhood, and it doesn’t matter what school you’re at.”
At least one McCamey resident said it doesn’t matter that Fellows recently worked for the school’s chief rival. Helen Molina, a server at Benoit’s Restaurant in McCamey, said she’s glad to have Fellows leading the Badgers because of his track record as a coach and his familiarity with the community.
Fellows said he and his family have been treated “very well” by McCamey ISD and the community in general, and Jay McWilliams also described it as a smooth transition. He said Fellows’ hiring has even been a stabilizer after Chris McWilliams resigned in June to take an oil-field job.
“When you go to a new school as a coach, it’s like moving into a new house,” Fellows said. “You’ve got that little strange feeling until you’ve been there awhile, and then you hit that comfort zone and say, ‘I’m home.’ Well, when I came back here to McCamey, I didn’t have that. It was like things hadn’t really changed.”
Fellows said it shouldn’t be uncomfortable to go against some of his former players at Iraan, because he already did that last year while on the coaching staff at Reagan County. The Owls beat the Braves 29-0 during the fourth week of the season.
Not that there isn’t some uneasiness about the subject of Iraan, and Fellows’ departure from the school. He was reassigned by Iraan-Sheffield ISD after the 2011 season, despite compiling an overall record of 47-15 and winning at least a share of a district championship all five years he was there.
Fellows said, “Questions are still unanswered,” but he’s no longer seeking those answers and concerning himself with those questions. He’s just glad to be in McCamey and glad to be a head coach again.
“To me it’s over. It’s water under the bridge,” Fellows said. “I am where I am, and I am where I’m supposed to be. And we’re excited to be back.”