Editor's Note: This is the third installment of a series looking at some of the best sports rivalries in the area.
Who has the best ski resort? The best restaurants? The best tourist area atop the mountains in Greene County?
The debate can go on and on between the towns of Hunter and Windham, but step foot inside a high school basketball gym during the winter months and the rivalry between schools can light the mountains on fire.
It’s a 20-minute drive down 23A and over NY-296 before the Hunter-Tannersville Wildcats enter Windham-Ashland-Jewett territory, making these two teams natural, geographical rivals.
The nature of small schools makes it so that everyone knows one another, as well.
Athletes compete against one another from the time they’re in youth leagues and many compete in three sports per year.
When they hit the hardwood in the winter time, though, bragging rights are at stake.
“I think it’s great for the student body when I see one section of the bleachers in blue chanting ‘W-A-J’ and another section of the bleachers in Maroon chanting ‘H-T-C’,” HTC basketball coach Chris Glennon said. “It’s great entertainment that is fun to be a part of. Many alumni always show up at these match-ups to see familiar faces on both sides and to root for their respective school.”
The actual Battle of the Mountaintop has been contested twice per basketball season. Fundraising occurs and fans come out in droves.
“I suppose it has always been the Battle,” Glennon said. “As far as being called the ‘Battle of the Mountaintop’, it started probably about 10-12 years ago when the Catskill Daily Mail extensively covered HTC and WAJ basketball and the big rivalry game.”
Glennon credits former sports reporter and sports editor Mike LaBuff with creating the moniker.
“He always liked a juicy headline to sink his writing teeth into and he ran with it and it has stuck as the headliner for the rivalry two times a year,” Glennon said.
“They’re both really tight-knit communities and it was always a lot of fun covering those games,” LaBuff said. “It was intense, whether it was on the soccer field, basketball court or in baseball and softball. Whenever you have kids playing against eachother from the youth level all the way through high school, it creates these rivalries. They want those bragging rights.”
And the rivalry carries over into the spring season.
Where Hunter-Tannersville has held a firm grasp on the Mountaintop title in basketball, Windham-Ashland-Jewett has been just as good in baseball.
Last year, the Warriors faced, and beat, the Wildcats twice, winning 11-3 and 16-1.
“I would say it definitely carries over to soccer and baseball/softball,” HTC coach and athletic director Brent Dearing said. “There are certain games the kids just get up for. In terms of competitiveness it really hasn’t been the same the last couple years. When I first got into the rivalry back in 2005 when I started here, HTC was just better in most sports, especially on the boys side. We went through 5-6 years where we didn’t lose to them at all. Then Windham got really good with that strong group of boys from 2011-15. Now it seems to have come back our way, especially in soccer and basketball.
“It’s always intense, though, no matter what. I was a part of the Cairo-Durham/Greenville rivalry as a player where we just wanted to prove a point every time we played and I think this has the same type of feel.”
Windham athletic director and baseball coach Jim Adair declined to comment on the rivalry.
“I would say over the years HTC has been stronger in the basketball rivalry with WAJ being stronger in baseball. Soccer seems to go back-and-forth. Golf and ski racing are close,” Glennon said. “Each and every year produces highs and lows in the different sports and it depends on who is coming through the prospective programs.”
As for specific players that have stood out in the rivalry, Glennon — who has been involved with the school for decades — can’t pin down one or two players.
“I’ve probably coached like 270 players in 23 years and if I mentioned only a few I would be leaving some out of the rivalry,” he said. “What I would say is for all the HTC basketball players who took part in the rivalry, they all were up for these two games a year at either location.
“I love the intensity and the passion for one’s school on both sides,” Glennon said. “I guess as a coach I feel like the villain when I’m coaching at WAJ. When I’m at Tannersville in the home confines, I consider myself the hero. It’s something like that with the feeling of passion exuded on both sides. Coach with passion knowing that you represent your athletes, your school and your community. Go Hunter-Tannersville Wildcats and if you attend these games be sure to wear Maroon and not Blue!”
The Windham faithful might have something to say about that.