The morning after another thrilling game between Washington Court House and Miami Trace high schools, Nick Epifano, owner/operator of McDonald’s of Fayette County, took time to reflect on the football rivalry and the history of the traveling trophy that’s presented to the winning school each year.
The McDonald’s Fayette County Championship trophy — presented to the Blue Lions Saturday after their 33-28 victory over the Panthers — was created in 2003, which was the year the South Central Ohio League was reformed.
“When I first moved here, Miami Trace and Court House didn’t play each other, which I thought was strange,” Epifano said following the trophy presentation at the Jeffersonville McDonald’s. “I came from New Lexington and our biggest rival was Sheridan. We had a big rivalry….went on for years. I remember what that week, rivalry week, was like when I was growing up. I didn’t see that here and I was shocked.”
Once it was known that the series between the two rivals was set to resume, Epifano met with the superintendents of both school districts and came up with the idea of the traveling trophy.
“I wanted to help make this even more special, not just for McDonald’s but special for the kids,” he said. “We had a trophy built and the winner of that game would keep it for 364 days until the next time somebody got a chance to win. In addition to that, every year we’ve had a $500 dollar scholarship for each school. About five or six years ago we started doing $500 dollars for the athletic boosters and the band boosters. We feed the winning team the morning after the game and we have the presentation. When we first started, it was just on the radio because we didn’t have Facebook and social media like that. But six or seven years ago, we started doing a live Facebook broadcast of the presentation along with interviews of the coaches and players.”
Epifano said the rationale behind this was to make this rivalry even more of a treasured memory for the student-athletes than it already is.
“Right now they may take it for granted, but when they get to be my age, it really is the glory days of school and playing ball,” he said. “So now the traveling trophy has turned into a tradition in this community. I’m just happy to be able to do that. I thank God, first and foremost. I’m so thankful for our employees and all they do every day, as well as our great customers. We have this philosophy that if you come into our McDonald’s and spend money, we’re going to give a portion of that back to the community. We do it with things like this, the other broadcasts we do, and scholarships. I just bought 100,000 tickets and we supply the tickets for all the athletics for Court House, Miami Trace, Jamestown Greeneview, as well as Fayette Christian. So when you go to one of those games, that ticket cost is paid by us and it has a coupon on it you can use. It’s our customers and employees that give us the opportunity to do that. It’s not me, it’s them and as long as they continue to patronize us, it gives us that ability.”
The relationship that has been built between the Epifano McDonald’s and the local schools is a special one.
“I appreciate what the schools have done in the community and I appreciate the relationship we have with the schools,” Epifano said. “Living in this community, it’s very important to me. A lot of people look at McDonald’s and think it’s just a corporate brand. McDonald’s is really made up of a lot of small business people like myself. We just always thought it was important to give back with what people were so gracious to give us.”
Each year, Epifano has the opportunity to see the Miami Trace-Washington Court House rivalry up close and personal, and said he’s always extremely impressed with the atmosphere, the passion and the respect.
“It was so refreshing to see (Friday) night that we had that kind of crowd and tightly-contested game, and we didn’t have any issues,” he said. “We didn’t have parents fighting, we didn’t have players fighting. In this day and age, you see so many bad things that happen between sports teams. The kids in this rivalry, when they hit the field they’re bitter rivals. But when they’re off the field they’re so close because these kids grew up together. That make this a different rivalry than anything I’ve seen. It speaks to the leadership of both schools.”
Reach Record-Herald Editor Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352.
Look for more on this rivalry, as well as a preview of this week’s high school football playoff games, in Sports.